The Object Is To Win
This article was originally written and circulated in late 1967. Reproduced below is the third edition, which included minor revisions and a new 1971 introduction.
Until recently the idea of revolution in the United States seemed unreal to most people, even to those who believe in it. Only a few years ago, with the big increase in civil rights action by Black people, revolutionaries were still very scarce. Robert Williams had to leave the country to escape the lynchers – he was persecuted not only from outside but also from inside his own movement.
Students, first Black and then white, quickly began to take up revolutionary ideas and proved to have great courage, but not yet a lot of strength or any real strategy .The state and its liberal guardians could still count on frustrating revolutionary hopes with a few promises and reforms backed up with repression and heavy threats; the history of the old left was expected to repeat itself endlessly.
It has not turned out that way. Already revolution touches our lives at every turn. Black people have dared to create an openly revolutionary liberation movement. The defeats imposed on the “most powerful empire in history” by the despised Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Cuban peoples have made more people realize that it can be done by us too. Pushed by Black militancy, white students and kids began to leap beyond peace and civil rights protest to create an anti-war movement that was clearly anti-imperialist. We began to be conscious that to win ourselves we have to fight racism and get right into the age of revolutionary war along with the Blacks, Vietnamese, and Cubans. Young people began to fortify themselves to hold out in a long fight by generating a rebellious life style and culture.
The article reproduced here was written and first circulated as these changes began to take shape and gain strength (late 1967, early 1968). It attempts to describe these changes in terms of the interaction between fundamental world developments and conditions in the U.S., and in this way to work out a strategy that will win.
The basic idea is that the internationalist strategy of supporting, joining, and spreading wars of liberation of the oppressed peoples in order to defeat U.S. imperialism applies to the home front not only in terms of Black and Brown rebellion, but also, though in a different way, it necessarily determines the strategy of white revolutionaries of the oppressor country. This is not just a generality; it has to be carried out concretely in every moment of revolutionary struggle.
The material on national liberation contained in Part VI is somewhat dated – it deals with PL and Trotskyist and “Debrayist” positions. At present the issues remain, but in somewhat altered form. Now one would have to write also in terms of identical anti-national anti-international positions as given in Huey Newton’s verbal abolition of nations in the name of “inter-communalism.”
The “Object” was intended to help pull together the consciousness of the most revolutionary white youth activists. The first major test of a new level of internationalist consciousness and politics came in the battle in which Students for a Democratic Society, with a lot of help from Blacks and Chicanos (Black Panthers, Brown Berets, Young Lords), rebuffed the anti-Black anti-Vietnamese policies of Progressive Labor (June 1969). The fight with PL was followed by one mostly between Weatherman and RYM II (which remained in SDS for a short time) and with part of the Bay Area Revolutionary Union (West Coast, mainly), both of whom promoted essentially the same politics as PL.
The last paragraph of Part VII was written before these differences were sharply defined and has been edited to avoid its being misapplied to disputes to which it was not addressed.
In 1969-70, battles had to be fought against elitist-adventurist ideas similar to those of Debray which are criticized in this article. However, recently there is, in reaction to elitism, a revival of the chaotic ideas of “participatory democracy” and “non-ideological ” activism which first became popular in opposition to old left stagnation and bureaucracy. This is not dealt with at length in the “Object,” but the role and function of army and party indicated here clearly requires an adequate structure and organization to guarantee effective action. And that in turn demands collective ways of organizing and policy making as the only corrective or antidote to bureaucracy and commandism that always creep into structures and networks and mechanical disciplines.
Re-publication of the article also seems timely as a partial response to some present tendencies to react to increasing reaction by either fatalistic death-tripping or escapist, ego-centered life-tripping.
(This text slightly edited; the content remains the same.)
Since this introduction was written the book Weatherman, edited by Harold Jacobs, has been published by Ramparts. The contents include one paper entitled “Everyone Talks About the Weather …” (pages 440-47) which contains unacknowledged direct quotations and paraphrases taken from “The Object Is To Win.” It is possible that the editor was unaware of the existence of the source document as only four or five hundred mimeographed copies were prepared by and circulated among the Weathermen. That edition of the “Object” was also reproduced by the State of Illinois and recently by the Internal Security Committee of the U.S. Senate.
This background document and its circulation is one of the few direct expressions of inner struggle within Weatherman between those supporting concepts advocated in the “Object” and the more spectacular partisans of various anarchist, “Debrayist,” and purely militarist lines of thought. Neglect of and failure to comprehend the inner dynamics of SDS, PL-WSA, RYM, RYM II, and Weatherman is a serious failing common to all those who have attempted to define the recent history of the “New Left”. The Jacobs book is so far the most comprehensive, but it fails in this particular also.
I. SOME DEFINITIONS
Given below are several words and expressions often used in the debate on strategy and tactics of resistance in the U.S. There is no attempt to sort out everything which will eventually need to be clarified – only so much as is necessary for a beginning.
This is the special kind of war generated by oppressed and poorly armed people to overcome the initial advantage of better weapons and organization at the disposal of their enemies. It may be waged against foreign or domestic foes, or both at once. It utilizes a strategy of building from small and weak forces to many fighters and mighty strength. It is essentially a political and revolutionary form of war (people’s war) and cannot win or sustain itself other than through massive popular support.
Thus the guerrillas start on the defensive, win equality, and go over to the offensive. While starting strategically on the defensive, this is not a passive defense. Tactically it takes the offensive and chooses to fight only when it can win by concentrating superior forces at the point of action. It punishes and whittles down the enemy. Its foremost aim is to destroy the enemy capacity to fight. It avoids the battles which it will lose. To this extent it seizes the initiative even while on the defense. Guerrillas cannot start with positional war, or even mobile war. Later on they will expand this stage, toward the end using conventional war perhaps combined with general strikes, widespread sabotage, and insurrection.
Guerrillas must choose targets carefully. These must meet with the approval of the mass of the people as fitting and just. A guerrilla army utilizes the supplies and arms of the enemy, but since it depends upon popular support, it respects the property, the interests, and the lives of the people.
So far in all this there is nothing which in theory would rule out the application of this pattern to a modern industrial nation, for all its urbanized population and great metropolitan centers.
There is one major consideration which changes the entire problem. This is the guerrilla strategy of building the armed forces and their bases first in the countryside, later invading and capturing the cities. Historically guerrilla warfare is peasant war and national war. This is so from the time of the French and Indian War in North America, the U.S. revolutionary war, the Resistance of Spain to Napoleon I – right up to Vietnam.
This has so patterned the strategy and especially the tactics of guerrilla warfare that we prefer to use an entirely new and distinct term for a protracted war of resistance and liberation when applied to a country such as we are familiar with in the U.S. The experience of guerrilla war should be utilized, but emphasis will be on the differences in applications. The reason is that the identity has been overdone and romanticized. This is misleading and very dangerous.
Until a better name turns up we will describe the form of a popular war against an aggressive semi-fascist type regime at home as close warfare.
This use of the word close has many aspects, but the one to be underscored in the beginning stages is that combat teams are born in the very heart of the strongholds of the enemy. From the first, fighters are stationed on the right and the left, before and behind, above and below the enemy. He is encircled and enveloped at all times. His most prized and valuable and indispensable possessions and structures are hostage to his potential foe.
The home front is honeycombed and crowded with the resistance recruitment pool; the enemy cannot smash the people’s forces without fatally breaching his own defenses. The fighter does not make long marches, he makes deep penetrations.
The mass demonstration is exactly what it says it is – a show of strength. It is thus directly political in purpose – it aims at education of masses and leaders through a limited form of action. It puts pressure on the state power, makes preliminary test of the readiness of the people’s forces and those of the enemy. A demonstration which goes over to direct confrontation and challenge to open battle at an early stage invites conventional warfare prematurely, and at a disadvantage. This is to court disaster.
It is wrong to reject demonstrations as some do, on grounds they do not change policy or overthrow the system. This is not their immediate purpose. A demonstration may also be too passive in form, when people begin to feel the need for action. Active demonstrations are one form of resistance. Use of hit and run tactics in coordination with demonstrations tends to overcome and correct wrong ideas about what they are.
Resistance is a stage at which people begin to fight but are still on the strategic defensive. For a long time mass action, and political protest, strikes, demonstrations, etc., predominate. The use of direct action, sabotage, etc., and combat teams are still weak, relatively. But even from the very beginning combat, one or another form of action is decisive, and everything is based on developing this form until it becomes the main form of struggle; the growth of the combat forces is the essence of resistance, but it can only grow in the midst of massive resistance in all forms.
From sabot, a wooden shoe; workers wearing wooden shoes used to chuck them into the works to screw things up.
It is to be hoped that these preliminary explanations will contribute to sharper analysis and help to reach workable conclusions. Further terms will be explained as needed in discussing problems.
It is simply assumed without elaboration that this discussion takes place at first among people who already want to abolish the system now prevailing, which is based on exploitation of nation, class, sex and race.
It is assumed that a system which imposes its will at home and abroad chiefly by police and military force will be destroyed in the same manner. It is assumed that any successful revolutionary war to abolish this system must have popular backing and will be a long process.
It is assumed that when the old system is defeated and abolished, the people will create a collective social system, that is, socialism.
Debate about the nature of socialism, democracy, dictatorship, structure, leadership, and so on will follow later. Also deferred is the argument as to whether the combat forces can also serve as the revolutionary political vanguard as argued by Regis Debray – or whether the revolutionary political party as such is indispensable as indicated in the practice And theory of Marxist-Leninists such as Mao Tse-Tung.
These questions will not be avoided. They will be taken up after describing our views on strategy and tactics.
II. STRATEGY IS BUILDING A PLAN THAT WILL WIN
Strategy is long range planning. When methods, techniques, or maneuvers are planned and carried out as a smaller part of the strategic plan, this is tactical planning and action.
A strategic action or campaign is that which decides the outcome of the entire war.
Strategy starts with understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy. Strength because it must be destroyed and surpassed. Weakness because this is used to sap the enemy strength and build that of the opposing force.
Strategy is rounded out by knowing one’s own strengths and weaknesses. A strategic plan is complete when we know how to destroy enemy strength and build ours to the point where his state power can be defeated and destroyed. Taking state power is the strategic goal of a home front liberation movement. (Who takes state power and the forms of revolutionary power are beyond the scope of this paper and call for much further study and analysis. – Ed. note for third edition.)
Consider the military strength of a modern state. The strength of an imperialist power lies in its large professional armed forces possessing sophisticated weaponry and organization.
Such a state is armed to the teeth with air power, sea power, mechanized forces, transport, modern communications, atomic weapons.
Weaponry and logistic support: this is the entire inventory of the military strong points of the enemy at the strategic level.
All of the other seeming strong points prove upon close examination to really be weak points.
So it is with the power structure advantage in training and command experience. This is offset by the orientation on conventional war and the state’s inability to fight like a revolutionary. The Vietnamese state that the U.S. troops have excellent arms but do not fight well.
Another liability is possession of numerous bases all over the globe. The immediate usefulness of these bases is far outweighed by the vulnerability of extended supply and communications and by being immersed and encircled by a revolutionary sea of people.
The military and supporting apparatus of an imperial power commands the services of an enormous number of people. This strength also contains the seeds of its own destruction. These mercenaries are pitted against an enormously larger number of people who are exploited by the system, and its very servants have reason to turn against it.
Most of these weaknesses have political roots – here we are concerned with the military consequences. We also point out that these are strategic weaknesses; at the moment the enemy still confronts its adversaries in great strength.
Nevertheless, the Vietnam war has exposed the strategic weaknesses below the surface. This is the main service to the people of the U.S. by the Vietnamese. It is not merely that the U.S. state has displayed its brutality in Vietnam – more it has proved to be fatally weak, for all its terrible weapons. The world wide expansion of U.S. military power has laid it open to attack from all directions.
But the opposite aspect of the strategic disposition of U.S. military power is its centralization, and this too is a fatal weakness. The basic resources of supply, manpower, and command lie in the U.S. itself. Within the generally centralized Octopus of power, there are subordinate but essential centers. Everything has to be coordinated, centrally directed. It is no individual whim which causes LBJ to personally select bombing targets. This is a logical outcome of the U.S. table of organization.
This centralized apparatus is not only strategically a fatal weakness; it is immediately and tactically exposed.
“The world is round. Only one third of its people are asleep at anyone time. The other two thirds are awake and causing mischief somewhere.”
The people possess none of this terrible machinery of war. But the machinery and weapons of the power structure itself are always close to hand.
Contrary to the strategic condition of the enemy which is momentarily strong but potentially weak, the opposing revolutionary forces are momentarily weak but potentially immeasurably strong.
The political command of force and means of violence, institutions, prisons, TV, news media, schools, church dignitaries, election and party machinery, etc., gives the power structure enormous political strength. Again, this strength is material, institutional, and rests on sand. The entire works has not been able to keep the people from turning against the aggression in Vietnam or to keep the Black people from rebellion.
The political strength of the people lies in their numbers, their common interests and unity, their organization of massive resistance and their own combat forces. As yet weakly mobilized, this strength is coming into action and growing. It will be decisive in the long run.
A power structure under siege abroad and at home is compelled to rely more and more on military force and violence to save itself. Victory therefore depends upon generating superior force and better strategy.
To do so people must organize massive resistance and produce a highly effective and organized military arm. Not a band of heroes, but combat teams spearheading a massive resistance, is needed.
What is the disposition of forces? Strike at the strategic weakness of the enemy – his dependence on materiel, his over-centralization and his un-eager manpower. The popular forces will not battle in the mountains or the fringes or suburbs, but at the nerve centers.
This has to be coordinated by a strategic plan and command.
Contrary to the situation in guerrilla war in a relatively decentralized country, the vitals of the enemy are within reach almost at once. (In fact fighters are tempted to try big heroic feats beyond their strength and readiness.) Until the underground forces build up, the fighters depend more on secrecy and precision than on flight.
Politically, a decisive part of strategy is the selection of targets and types of action. This choice must express the political aims of the mass movement and its stage of development. Anything else will isolate the actionists.
Correct targets at this point are the specialized systems which maintain the Vietnam war and the equally specialized systems and force used to oppress Black people. These are prime objects of mass hatred and are indispensable to the present operations of the system.
To summarize some strategic guides:
Having no army, the people are weak, but this can gradually be built up.
The enemy has a strong army, but his strength is hollow; the hotter the fight, the more his strength melts.
Combat teams convert enemy resources to their own use.
We utilize our position within the centralized and sophisticated machinery of power to disrupt it, paralyze it and finally smash it.
The people of oppressed nations turn liberators and chop off the grasping arms of the monster; we sap and mine its vitals. The more armed state power strikes out, the more enemies it creates. The more we give blow for blow, the more friends and supporters we have.
Close warfare has even some strategic advantages over typical guerrilla war. As stated, it is an advantage to be in the center and actually permeate the entire structure.
It is an advantage to already have fighting allies on a dozen fronts.
It is an exceptional advantage to have in the U.S. a Black nation which spearheads the resistance and which is already in defensive combat (not yet in close war) and which is in a position to give strategic blows to the military and political strength of the system and which moreover has direct political ties with the fighters abroad.
These advantages are strategic and permanent and growing. The disadvantage of having the most vicious enemy, all the materiel and prestige bribery of people, brain-washing, the officer corps of the enemy in command of workers’ organizations – all of these are transient and will give way after many hard blows. Finally, the mercenaries are blood of our blood, not alien but alienated. This makes it harder to strike first blows, but in the end they disintegrate.
This is what the U.S. is really like – this is where it’s at.
III. THE POLITICS OF VICTORY
It is in the field of political action, theory, ideology, that some of the most prominent representatives of the “old left” attempt to lay the dead hand of the past as a blanket to smother and stifle the new movements. Whether this represents outright support to the system or “merely” captivity to liberalism or towering sectarian egotism does not make much difference in results.
What is important is to examine our history carefully to find the causes of failure and the promise of success. To slavishly follow the past is futile. To reject it in toto is to end up in feverish but mindless and impotent action for the sake of action. It must be sorted out. This paper will pose for discussion some of the politics we think most relevant if we seriously mean to win.
The first proposition is that big changes in the world mean big changes for us too. We cannot simply return to where it was twenty or thirty years ago. Young persons understand this almost by nature. Many others do not. They do not see the new movements as reflecting something genuinely new, but only as the same old “middle class” or petty bourgeois anarchism and undiscipline.
So, is the new left a diversion, a false turn to be corrected, or is it creating something important and even wonderful?
A revolutionary must place himself on the side of struggle, on the side of the new and growing, not with the old and decaying. This is our axiom, absolute commitment to struggle. It is true that the new movements have reduced much of the old concepts and the old organizations to one big mess. But in the midst of chaos, some great things are beginning.
The advance is real: this is the main thing. Dangers exist, and foolishness, but this can be licked. We can twist and turn and even use brakes a little, to take sharp corners, but never to reject or change the general direction, which is sound and creative.
What is this conviction based upon? Fact number one is that imperialism headed by the U.S.A. has mustered its maximum force in the world and it is not enough for it to win, let alone maintain, world domination. The imperialists may yet mobilize a few more guns and a few more tricks; still their opponents, revolutionary people, nations, and classes, will mobilize even more.
Vietnam is the proof. People will wage such wars of liberation so long as the invader does not give up. As for the system, it may be forced to accept defeat at one point or another and retreat a bit for a time, but it will hang on wherever it can so long as it exists.
It is a fight to the finish.
In a world-wide fight to the finish, could the U.S. people – that is, the Blacks, young people, intellectuals, workers – go on for a long time at business as usual until such time as our counterparts abroad do the job for us?
Shamefully, some people speculate on this. But it is a losing gamble. The proof is in. The U.S. rulers exported aggressive war and death to guarantee profitable export of capital. The chickens are coming back to roost: defeat abroad, resistance and rebellion at home.
Resistance and rebellion are met with bullets, gas: and brutality, but also still with pay-off and co-opting.
But the cost of empire ($30 billion for one year in Vietnam and heading rapidly for what? Say $300 billion?) is going up so fast that pay-off will became more and more restricted and the pay-up more and more universal. Further, not only rebellious victims abroad will refuse to provide the pay-off loot, but so will Blacks, Mexican-Americans, women, young people, and others short-changed at home.
The rest of the world is about to dispense with the luxury of supporting a gang of useless parasites, even Yankee ones. The sharing of the rake-off with a minority of favored workers is a sometime thing; it will not long continue.
The course of the Black Power movement plainly indicates that if the super-exploitation of Black men and women does not end, then the gravy train for quite a few whites is going to get de-railed.
For instance, the present “prosperity” level of as much as $17,000 per year for some workers in west coast shipping (in exchange for fabulous and much greater profits for the ship owners) depends entirely on the boom due to the Vietnam war and a Bridges deal to share in it (the famous modernization and mechanization contract). Bridges calls it blood money. But he demands all he can get for his jurisdiction and considers himself an opponent of the war because he made a speech.
The Vietnamese and the U.S. poor pay the bill. Either the Vietnam war and this payoff are smashed, or the war and the bill will get so big and costly that not only luxury but bare existence will be snatched away from more than 90% of the working people.
The military and political defeat of the U.S. in Vietnam is still largely hidden from the view of the people at home. But it is huge and it is disastrous for the U.S. rulers, who are well aware of this. But this defeat can only benefit the people, for it will help them to get rid of imperialism, which is causing all their big troubles.
A so-called “victory” in Vietnam, if the impossible should happen, would be the greatest misfortune for the U.S. people. Such a “victory”, like Hitler’s early “success”, would result in wild plunges and even more catastrophic defeat.
In this kind of a world, and with this kind of a national role, can the mass of people, who are basically workers in our country, hold back from the fight against imperialism and for their own liberation?
Some old fighters pin their hopes on reviving the economic battles of the 1930s and 1940s.
But is this the main revolutionary task today – long and patient preparation and economic struggle as usual to win support shop by shop, local by local, union by union, until millions and tens of millions are at last ready to perhaps do something political?
Or do we take the world into account also? The world majority has launched already the protracted war of liberation which will finish off U.S. imperialism (sooner with our help). In this real world do not U.S. revolutionaries also have the duty to enlist for the duration?
Man by man, woman by woman, act by act, we build our own front of liberation. Events and the ruling class will create millions of supporters and hundreds of thousands of recruits, provided only that we have correct political ideas and learn well how to fight and how to win.
We should not reject economic struggle by workers, especially by the most exploited. But every struggle today is a skirmish in the world wide war with U.S. imperialism and we are partisans against the system. We will support and further every economic struggle that promises to hurt and impede imperialism in any way; we will not, for the same reason, honor any contracts, awards, bribes, pay-offs, or alleged “duty” to refrain from any and all acts to bring to a dead stop all imperialist war acts or war connected production, transport, communications, or research.
We are not sectarians who condemn everyone who does not at once recognize this duty and commitment. (Most of the sects, in fact, make no such commitment, other than in words; they only pose.) Rather, we value every act and deed which adds to the total resistance. We oppose everything which in practice means withdrawal from, or sabotage of, struggle.
IV. WE AND THE GUN
“It can be said with certainty that the complete collapse of colonialism, imperialism, and all systems of exploitation, and the complete emancipation of all the oppressed peoples and nations of the world are not far off.” (From statement in support of the Afro-American struggle against violent repression, by Mao Tse-Tung, ApriI 16, 1968.)
We are nearing a climax as world-wide rebellion tears away at encircled imperialism.
In such times of great social upheaval the outcome often depends upon timely action to remove a particular road-block which is holding up further advance and growth of revolutionary power.
When the magnificent struggles of oppressed people abroad and Blacks at home are reinforced by enough of the rest of us prepared to do likewise, the end of U.S. imperialism will rapidly follow.
This is the one great cause for all radicals and revolutionaries who live and organize among the white majority of the U.S. population. This is both our special job and our entire justification.
The opening of a combat front by us “inside the monster” will release an infinitude of revolutionary energy. We are the missing gut-fighters. It is time to close the gap and make the link-up.
The warm welcome already extended to our modest struggles should be taken by us more as a challenge to future action than as a tribute to pat performance.
For it is we who owe an urgent and compelling debt of gratitude to peoples like the Koreans, the Chinese, the Vietnamese, the Cubans, and the Black people. Their victories have the unique dual nature of being also severe defeats for those who are simultaneously this world’s cops and oppressors and our own particular curse – the U.S. imperialists. It has now been convincingly demonstrated that people can fight back and win.
We do not enter the scene as heroic rescuers of small peoples. Our fight will be of some help to them. But they have already done far more for us than we shall ever repay – they have disclosed to us both the monstrous nature and the fatal vulnerability of the U.S. empire.
Now we can begin to understand and share their purging hatred and contempt for white U.S. arrogance and genocide. We can begin to be aware of the shame of tolerating slave-makers in our midst.
Peoples fighting today are but an advance guard for massive armies rapidly taking shape. The cumulative force and collective violence of a vast majority of mankind will take by storm the puny strongholds of the colonizers, old and new. Even now the handful of imperialists and their undermanned and uneager legions are being smashed and destroyed in battle These defeats inevitably will bring to a head existing elements of political, social, and economic crisis with explosive violence.
But only we ourselves can resolve this crisis. Only we can change our own society and birth our part of a new world. If we do not rise up to help destroy the enemy and save ourselves from complicity in all his works – how then shall we be able to create a new life?
The ruling classes in the U.S. have taken up the gun against people everywhere. They do not exempt people at home. Political power from the barrel of a gun not the issue exclusively for the oppressed nations and peoples of various other places and colors. It is a reality to be faced by whites in the U.S. also.
This is a truth first for those who wish to be anti-imperialist and revolutionary – but it is rapidly coming home to the whole nation.
U.S. imperialism has lived by the sword too long and too completely to now cop a plea of non-violence.
When the urgent need is to open new fronts of combat in order to win, all politics and movements must be directed to that purpose – all else is subordinate until the decision is taken and the beginning made.
He who refuses the gun is no revolutionary. He who does not strive does not strive for mastery of arms and the art of combat but gossips about revolution far removed from his own person, does only ham.
Our great need at this moment is to create a sound military line and strategy, tactics, and combat organization appropriate to the U.S. “Learn to fight by fighting”; and in so doing create what the people lack – their own army and party.
Once this course is adopted, much new thinking, planning, and far more effective local and national organization and discipline become absolutely necessary. This demands leadership of a more serious and qualified sort than that which sufficed in preliminary stages.
Serious analysis and theory must be applied to our own experience. Neither chatter about Marxism-Leninism in general in the remote future, nor romantic games or tournaments of dogma will serve. We must now employ political science to solve precisely our own pressing problems on our own special sector of world reality.
V. IT IS TIME TO REBEL
When it is time to rebel a good example is worth ten thousand words. Nevertheless, it is necessary to give the reasons which compel this ultimate and irrevocable action.
The most determined Black revolutionaries are taking up arms as the only way to win. No other section of the left has yet done this. These two facts express a definite difference between Black activists and leaders and most of the white left.
This difference is no new discovery. It is not hard to explain by differences in life experiences and the “realistic” prospects of Blacks and whites. Such facts are no longer denied by spokesmen for those who rule.
But these facts do not bring everyone to the same conclusions. Some Blacks (Leroy Jones, Robert Williams) have held that nothing good will come from any class movement of whites. At another extreme are whites who hold that Black liberation is a minority problem which is subordinate to white working class revolution and therefore will be resolved by some sort of integration (old C.P. and S.W.P., etc.). This latter view, expressing an arrogant and patronizing outlook, is rapidly becoming entirely absurd. For the Black struggle is now but one part of a world-wide majority movement against U.S. domination. These anti-imperialist forces have shown themselves to be quite able to smash up U.S. armed force for all its guns and its pay-offs.
The underlying weaknesses and hidden crisis of U.S. imperialism were first openly revealed by political and military defeats in China (we “lost” China – remember?) followed by Korea, Cuba, Vietnam.
Recent years have added acute crises in affairs at home – Black rebellions, resort to political assassinations, financial panic leading into economic breakdowns caused by ballooning costs of trying to hang on to an inflated empire, resistance to the draft and also an entire generation of young people threatens to get beyond the reach of establishment controls, allies waver and desert, LBJ puts on a phony self-immolation political circus, and more.
This is no ordinary rash of minor problems – U.S. imperial power is past its short and rapid rise and is on the down escalator. The outlook is for further decline.
There are no facts to support the notion of an early recovery and a lengthy convalescence through “liberal” doctoring. New outbreaks of crises, bigger defeats, more repression and aggressions lie ahead; gale warnings dominate the realistic forecast.
McCarthy, Kennedy, Rockefeller; all together they can do no more than try to polish up standard procedures which are failing now. The old mix of fair promises and compulsive violence is no longer enough to save the system. As encircled imperialism feels the noose tighten, its command centers are compelled to resort to still more frantic deeds. Escalation is a built-in syndrome which persists to the end.
Crisis, revolutionary war, imperial defeats and spasms are the terminal symptoms of the system. The seemingly permanent durability of middle-class business and politics as usual is the unreal and illusory. It is a mansion with a bold front, but gutted by inner fire ready to collapse when the storm hits in full strength.
Writers like Carl Oglesby (Guardian series, April 1968) who predict a period of liberal relatively non-violent policy for U.S. imperialism are basing themselves upon evidence from campaign oratory and public relations blurbs. This fails to explain how talk can save an empire based on force when it is confronted by superior force.
Neither China, nor Vietnam, nor revolutionary Blacks are going to fade away. Anti-imperialist war is increasing in momentum. If U.S. power should retreat a little here or there (so far it is only talk) this will only ease the pressure for half a moment.
Activists here must base policy and action upon solid prospects of victory. (The storm has already reached Europe; the idea of winning is no longer in the category of dreams.) Therefore, we go over from defensive tactics to the strategy of an offensive. We should not be diverted by the false show of strength of imperialism as it rallies the frenzied energy of desperation.
Resistance will only win by joining up in the war which already is under way and doing quite well. The basic choice for the U.S. activist is essentially simple – if you wish to be part of the fight to the finish, then hit the monster where it will do the most damage. And who is in a better position to do this?
But to carry this choice through to the very end is not simple or easy.
VI. NEW TRICKS AND OLD TRICKS SLICKED UP
“The surest way of discrediting and damaging a new political idea is to reduce it to absurdity on the pretext of defending it.” –V.I. Lenin
It is no longer very effective for reformists to peddle peaceful everything, through competition to utopia; socialism by amending the U.S. Constitution, victory through the ballot, etc. Communist Party USA notables who just a few years back pleaded their innocence of any revolutionary deed or thought and their complete loyalty to non-violence at the Smith Act trials now come on slyly dropping hints about violence to come if the powers that be do not accept their reforms and better reward their talents and services.
But this is a side show, mostly to provide a haven for straying liberals. More useful to the ruling classes are more artful and up-to-date maneuvers.
Right now there is much talk about recent events including the electoral circus. A main variation goes like this:
First there is a big fuss about the danger of co-opting of the left. The thing is that Kennedy, McCarthy, or Rockefeller will really do it – that is, deliver on their promises – and then we, the movement, will be high and dry in a liberal imperialism that works. The alleged remedy for this sleeping sickness is to give up all thought of action against the Vietnam war or the draft (it’s all over, fellows) and go in big for anti-imperialist and anti-racist talk. So we “fight” Kennedy by believing his fairy tales and giving up action. In this version the rifles have all been stacked and imperialism runs on hot air.
An alternate version is that Kennedy and the rest do have teeth. They will do as Johnson did – but here the thing is, you see, all the stupid people are taken in – everyone has sold out or is about to. We the leaders of such and such a sect are the only great and pure bearers of the revolutionary flame and the workers who surely would have followed us are being sold wholesale by everyone from George Meany to Ho Chi Minh. (If this seems like the wildest invention, read PL magazine or any Spartacist sheet.
Since the workers are still in tow of Meany and Reuther and have yet to discover the great revolutionaries patiently or impatiently waiting to lead them – obviously it is not yet time to pull the pin and take over the works. Guns are nothing but romantic adventurism until the workers are revolutionized by us by the millions.
Some of these word spinners also star at the popular left sport of demolishing the “theories” of Regis Debray. (Revolution in the Revolution.) This is surely the easiest known form of intellectual exercise. But before a closer look at this criticism, what can be said for his promoters? The kindest thing to say is that some Debray enthusiasts are really concerned about revolutionary problems of central and South America and whatever can be learned from this and from Cuba. But for the most part, they do not in the least examine the definitions or solutions, or even compare the Debray version of Cuban history with reality or even Debray with Debray. (In addition to two earlier articles published in England, Revolution in the Revolution contains un-reconciled opposite major conclusions.)
One such hobby is the Latin version of bonapartism. Caudilloism and Junta rule led by the military hero who settles everything. Another is extending the rejection of non-revolutionary Communist parties to a rejection of the Marxist-Leninist concept of the Party in general. This in turn is a military version of anarcho-syndicalism which is a Latin rendering of themes also basic to the Industrial Workers of the World and the Socialist Labor Party of the U.S. (DeLeonism).
Still another device is using undoubted special problems and Latin American conditions to distort and negate some important Asian experience and lessons – not only Chinese, but also Vietnamese.
One thing which Debray wipes out is the most important national aspect of anti-imperialism and the stages of social revolution. In spite of his heated polemic against some Trotsky-oriented groups, Debray promoted this Latin version of Trotsky’s permanent revolution theories.
All these propositions, although not original or much altered, are certainly very handy springboards for anyone who may want to revive all the old system put-downs of Marx, Lenin and the classics, in a borrowed new left mini-skirt. In the Latin form, it is all the easier to add Mao and Ho and Giap to the target list along with distortions of Fidel and Che. This last is done carefully because of their great popularity in this country.
When these “discoveries” of Debray are set alongside their venerable prototypes not only the shortness but also the thinness of cover shows up.
Now come the critics on the left. What a godsend Debray is to the old professional sectarian who needs cover not so much for nakedness as for impotence. What a picnic he has with all this mish-mash. But there is something behind the fire-storm of words.
For example in a recent PL magazine, Jake Rosen reviews Debray only for the purpose of flogging Cuba with the same lash he uses on the Soviet and U.S. governments. Just three or four years ago, Che and Fidel were his revolutionary heroes; today they are out – along with the rest of PL’s list of sell-outs. (Koreans, Vietnamese, SNCC, the Black Panther Party, the League of Revolutionary Black Workers; everyone is ex-communicated but PL and possibly Mao.)
We do not think it necessary or fruitful to split hairs about the relative purity of leaderships fighting imperialism. It is true that there are correct and incorrect theory and policy and action lines internationally as well as domestically. There are also mixtures of right and wrong and stages of development in all countries just as in the U.S. We can and should inform ourselves and discuss and learn about all this.
But what are the qualifications of these white U.S. pundits who presume to pass moral judgment on all those who are actually fighting because they are not pure doctrinaire angels? Do we not have the right to ask if any of these have yet taken a single first preliminary step to organize a single act of revolutionary war on their own highly strategic home front?
We think that judgments made in this fashion exactly ape the style and arrogance of the U.S. rulers who habitually order everyone about and trample on the rights of other nations to determine their own affairs. Self-determination has to include the right to learn by trial and error. In the U.S. itself this right is highly valued and much practiced.
Another objection is that it is certainly very useful to the present administration to have a story go around that the leadership of all its enemies who dare to fight are sell-outs. In the old left this sort of thing was called scabbery and strike-breaking. It still is.
It is very cheap and easy to hail Mao or even Lenin as a cover for one’s dirty work – it does not seem to upset Mao, but some who admire the Chinese revolution may thereby swallow a certain amount of unhealthy filth.
So far the critics completely ignore the main question for us. This is, what are the underlying reasons why Debray has had so much appeal, along with Che and Fidel, to sections of the U.S. movement, and how is he possible as a political figure. But first a word about admirers of Che Guevara.
One serious problem is that activists who wish to take up the gun are often romantic followers of the ideas and life of Che transplanted to the U. S. and labeled urban guerrilla warfare. So long as things remain at this level, it is extremely unlikely that much progress will actually be made toward people’s war. Symbolic play is one form of preparatory education, but it remains unreal; the realness of the assaults on the ghettoes has given things a more serious turn among the Blacks.
Perhaps only heavy casualties will carry white activists from tournaments to wars. But perhaps they can learn something from others.
In any case, the activists are in better shape than the hide-bound hawkers of medicine show revolution. Beneath the romance, many of the activists are completely serious. When one wants to fight and does not Know how, he will learn sooner by trying. Those who invent a million good reasons to reject every actual battle and campaign will never be anything but a diversion and a drag.
Much seemingly profound class analysis of the old pundits is irrelevant. They warn that middle class students can never bring it off, it is all petty bourgeois anarchism, only workers can give stable revolutionary leadership, etc. But the effect of this lament is to completely falsify revolutionary history. Working class proletarian ideology was created out of the raw material of class history precisely by the labors of middle class intellectuals.
If revolutionary leaders have to be workers by occupation then these absurd “Marxists” would cross out Marx-Engels-Lenin-Stalin-Mao.
Young people (some are workers or from working families) right now are promoting at least two basic working class concepts: one, to overthrow capitalism; two, to do it through combat. They use new labels, but this is the content. Which of their critics is doing anything so useful?
If a little bit of Marxism comes from the German professor, the small capitalist, the Russian lawyer, the Georgian divinity student, or the Chinese student-peasant, but somewhat re-shaped by U.S. young people, students, and intellectuals, what is so tragic in that? They are more amateur and less profound, certainly, but they are here and in contact with events and they can learn.
So it is chaos. Better revolutionary ferment than well-regulated repose. There will be no successful revolution without millions of workers – also true. But no one has yet revolutionized a single worker by trying to browbeat the young.
VII. CONFRONTING THE REAL CHOICE
In the last section we objected to the use of the names and the works of Marxist-Leninist classic authority to cover all sorts of petty schemes. To avoid these traps, it is not enough to ridicule and protest – we must produce analysis and basic conclusions as to the situation of the U.S. in the world of today.
Since Lenin and 1917, leadership of the revolution by a unitary Communist Party has been doctrine rarely challenged until recently. After the revolution, this party also leads the workers on to build socialism (dictatorship of the proletariat). The Party remains as the indispensable tool for the job.
Lenin also warned that the old system is pervasive, it creeps in through every crack, trying for a comeback. What better formula for restoration could be found than a cold war on the outside combined with an inside job on this indispensable party?
After the victory of World War II against fascist Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Japan, most Communist parties fell into peaceful dreams – peaceful transition, peaceful co-existence, victory by the ballot, non-violence, all capped by restoration of a profit system in the Soviet Union.
A few parties, China notably, and others mostly in Asia, held to the original Leninist ideas expanded by their own concepts of the anti-colonial revolution much influenced by Chinese experience and Mao Tse-Tung. This divergence was later generalized by Mao in terms of the Cultural Revolution.
Significant in this for us and for Latin America is that in the Western Hemisphere most of the old CPs degraded into mere parties of left opposition within the system without having given birth to a solid revolutionary core to carry on. This situation tended to discredit not only the old CPs but also the entire Marxist-Leninist party conception when the new left forces began to develop.
Strong anarcho-syndicalist and military traditions among Latins and the IWW and the DeLeonist ideas in the U.S. reinforced this rejection. (Comments on Latin America are made here because this is involved in the Debray controversy – we are not trying to present solutions for these problems.)
The result is that nothing in the world was at once so astonishing to the old left and yet entirely more natural than the fact that the first stages of the Cuban revolution should simply adopt certain military and syndicalist forms to flow around the studied and purposeful inaction of the old Cuban CP (PSP).
Debray fastens precisely on this discovery and this amazement. Behold the solution to all the hassle is just to do without a party until the old state is done in by the guerrilla army; then there will be time enough for parties. Fidel is more restrained. He sees a value in parties which collaborate with him, at least for a while.
Our sectarian critics are insulted at the outrage to their pretentiousness. Look, they write, it was an accident – less than a thousand men – what sort of war is that? Fidel was only a nationalist and Raul and Che hid their Maoist textbooks and so they hood-winked the Yankee. This can never be again. We have the only answer – back to classic purity and virginity and wait for the masses to ripen.
Was Cuba really a great new creation to replace all old lessons? (Debray) Was Cuba a freak of history with nothing new? (Critics) Neither one nor the other.
There is no special difficulty here. The needed evidence is all in the open. At the present level of world-wide anti-imperialist war and revolution, Marxist-Leninist ideas are more available than ever before in history, to millions in all continents.
If a reformist party erects a dam against these ideas, they will still flow over or around it. If there is no Marxist-Leninist party and leadership, or only tiny isolated grouplets revolutionary only in declared intent, but not in performance or ability, then there will be chaos and distortion and eclecticism. No group has authority, not just because of anarchism or middle class instability, but also because no one has earned authority by proving in action that there is both a correct line and ability to carry it out.
If, in addition, conditions are conducive to rebellion, then in such a set of circumstances, a united military action group can do much toward engaging the reactionary power structure and building up revolutionary armed forces. It is nonsense to claim that this is better than having a strong and genuinely revolutionary party, or that such a party will automatically grow out of the army.
Further, it is a basic that it is the people who make the revolution, not the leaders or the party or both together. And if Debray tends to see the guerrilla band as a goad to stir the people to revolt whether they will or no, his critics often use the alleged unreadiness of the masses to push off the revolution so far into the future that it loses all practical meaning.
People do sometimes take up arms and fight and even organize armed groups before they birth a party. This has happened before our eyes with the Black uprisings. It is more than three years since Harlem. Only now are the Blacks tackling the organization of a serious party.
It can be (and often is) argued that Blacks should have first made the party so things could go more smoothly and with fewer mistakes. But it is a thousand times more useful for us to discover the means out of which we will now create our own party and army.
We can start by demonstrating the relevance of both combat force and party to the present mass struggles instead of offering ready made canned formula and structure out of past generations and other times.
In urging the merit of a revolutionary party in creating unity of policy, leadership, organization, and discipline in combat, recent experience must be taken into account. Revolutionary discipline and organization can be corrupted into a bourgeois dictatorship of a privileged bureaucracy.
Revolutionary aims, policy, and action must have the right of way over any considerations of official privilege or status.
There is in fact some justification for the position of many activists who do not trust the politics and theory of any of our old communists. This distrust was a necessary part of sweeping away much of the old rubbish. But now something new is to be created, and new Marxist-Leninists with correct politics do not grow up quickly and easily.
To chant “Mao is right, the party must command the gun” in cases where there is still no party is certainly silly. It may be worse. It may cover rejecting the gun where there are conditions demanding its use and cases where armed struggle is a prime necessity for party building. It is not too much to ask that people who wish to command the gun prove their worth to command it not by quotation alone but by performance.
Debray manages to make the Cuban revolution seem more exclusive and elite than it was in fact. In the U.S. there has been built up the similar myth that to resort to purposeful violence is to insure complete divorce from mass support. This is contrary to our own experience, not just to the dialectic of struggle. A few years ago Blacks were always on the receiving end of violence; now they rise up and get in some licks of their own; they have more support, not less. Labor in its early militancy went through similar experiences.
Debray sees the city as a stronghold of reaction, co-opting, and corruption. Hence he “supports” Mao’s strategy for peasant countries of building the base in rural areas. Debray carries the idea to the point of discounting city struggle until the last possible moment and imparting a revolutionary quality to the mountain air. His critics rush in to defend proletarian honor – by denying the existence of corruption! This is contrary to Engels and Lenin as well as to logic and fact. Since we are an industrialized urban-suburban people we have no internal prospect of resort to rural bases in any strategic sense. But forces abroad more than make up for this. The crisis is well advanced, cracks open up. We are able to fight inside the citadel, because the enemy is so much embattled overseas.
As for co-opting and corruption, it is worse in the U.S. than anywhere else in the whole world. Saigon not excepted. Our answer is not to flee the city but to put deeds between us and the bribe, deeds and hatred of imperialism. The outlook is for bribes to control fewer people with a bigger squeeze on everyone else due to higher costs.
Debray, seconded by Castro, discounts the national and democratic nature of the anti-imperialist revolution and toys with ideas of a directly socialist revolution on a hemispheric or continental scale, although not without some reservations.
None of the left critics have risen to challenge this, although it is directly contrary to Mao, and to Chinese and Vietnamese practice. Only old reformists, who want to bargain with their own puppets and the Yankees, complain on this score.
Nevertheless, this is one of the very most important matters. Examine the Vietnamese example. Here there is a distinctly non-socialist stage of united revolutionary war against the U.S. and its puppet in Saigon (National Liberation Front political program).
At the same time, there is a projection of eventual socialist aims in the demand for working out Vietnamese re-unification. This is clearly a national, not a universalist war of liberation and this precisely is why it does have universal impact.
In most of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, national wars of liberation remain the main form of anti-imperialist war. Such was the opening stage in Cuba – Batista was a Yankee stooge. Nothing in the Cuban experience supports the curious idea of a peasant revolution directly for socialism. Actually, this concept is rooted in despair with the Latin capitalists.
The national-democratic revolution is basically peasant revolution. To reject national aims is in practice to reject rural bases. To expect peasants to fight directly for socialism is to expect them to convert themselves into workers by playing with labels and magic slogans. It ignores entirely their relationship to the land.
However, when anti-imperialist war has won political independence for the nation even with land reform, if there is no going on to socialism, there is inevitable reversion to neo-colonialism and reactionary police-state forms of government. Witness Iraq, Egypt, Ghana, Algeria, Tunisia.
It is at this point that revolutionary ideology, parties, the working class as such, meet their first critical testing. If they are too weak and have not done their work well, bourgeois forces collaborate with imperialism to turn the wheels backward and reverse the revolution. In the U.S. there are a few thousand corporate farms, a few million businessman farmers, many agricultural workers, and many workingmen and women supporting mini-farms. And damn few peasants. For this reason the national factor in the U.S. takes different form. Even in the case of Black liberation, the struggle is mainly city-oriented. For our part, one of our jobs has to be to rescue ourselves and our own people from the consequences of forming the national base for U.S. imperialism. In the final analysis, the white majority itself can only be free when imperial ism has been destroyed. We start by building local and national bases against imperialism within our own borders.
It may seem wild right now, but as the crisis gets sharper and defeats multiply, many people who seem quite conservative and full of love for their own enemies will desire to make this change, even though they may not yet be fully convinced supporters of socialism. These sharp defeats imperialism is taking are absolutely the best antidote for egotistical “America first” and “America is the greatest” stupidity we are always being pumped full of. This is a great merit of the new generations. Mostly, they aren’t too impressed by the old brainwash.
This includes many young workers, millions of whom are in the armed forces. This is a main reason why the system brass and wheels have nightmares about their outlook when the fight at home gets serious. They cannot be certain which way the guns will be fired.
Millions of workers, mainly young, but many older as well, do not have a big share in the fabled high wages and “middle class” life which has been the life-preserver for the system and its pet trade union bureaucrats.
When the costs of empire rise just a bit more, many will go under along with the dollar. As workers begin to respond to the new climate, and begin to learn that collective bargaining and economic strikes, even when the entire nation strikes, are not enough, revolutionary action permeates the atmosphere.
This is the alarm bell for the liberal, the reformist, and the revised “Marxist”.
New acts are hastily polished up for the electoral circus. Kennedy et al are not worried about a few activists as such. They are worried that revolutionary new left activities will influence ultimately millions of people, including many strategically placed young workers, GIs, and so on. But a few new Kennedy acts cannot save the old game.
VIII. ABOUT TIMING
It is the peculiarity of timing that it can never be conclusively settled other than in action. Only victory proves the time well chosen.
But defeat does not automatically condemn either strategy or timing. So long as a great crisis persists, one attempt may fail only to be followed by another until success or complete exhaustion of all the revolutionary forces.
A hard fought revolutionary war which fails may actually be the final preparation needed for the one which wins. There are times when the greatest disaster is to refuse to fight at all.
Peoples like the Vietnamese and Afro-Americans must fight to the end in order to survive. They forge victory because through fighting they become incapable of living as slaves.
What can be said for that tiny handful of U.S. whites who pride themselves on their revolutionary rhetoric but in practice speculate on waiting for a moment when others will have shed enough blood so that U.S. imperialism will be easy to defeat at little or no cost to themselves?
“But People’s War in Vietnam, if it is pursued, could destroy U.S. imperialism.
— Challenge (Progressive Labor Party), April 1968
Surely the ultimate arrogance of this pen stabbing could only be conceived by an adult, white, U.S. male, and could probably not be seriously offered in any left newspaper in any other country in the entire world.
Few people blurt out their miserable bankruptcy in such a bald way, while openly condemning those who are actually fighting. Still there are some who will cheer on fighters elsewhere while insisting that only in some future ideal situation when the working class is already thoroughly revolutionized will it be possible to do anything serious here.
U.S. workers are supposed to be so brainwashed that revolutionary deeds will turn them off completely – but these very same experts expect the workers to eat up their sixteen varieties of empty revolutionary rhetoric by the carload.
Fortunately, our history goes against them. People, students, workers, all kinds, respect deeds far more than idle talk.
Launching the fight when the time has come is the greatest educator and organizer of all. If there is no raging world and national crisis, you may justify advice to cool it and wait. But in the middle of a firestorm of struggle it is an absolute obligation to respond to the growing number of activists who seek an alternative to taking a beating in defensive actions – and the only worthy response is to organize and act to strategically gain the offensive.
A revolutionary will not require absolute advance guarantees. He will worry more about missing opportunities than about saving his hide for another day.