Spartacist Canada No. 152
The Movement, Mullahs and Liberal Muddleheads
From MAWO to Revolutionary Marxism
(Young Spartacus pages)
The following article was written by Spartacus Youth Club member Andrew Malieni.
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I worked in the Vancouver antiwar movement for approximately a year and a half. It started when I attended a March 2004 demonstration organized by the coalition Stopwar.ca. Id read some Marx and was politically minded, and was struck by the rallys crude Canadian nationalism and overtly reformist politics. Around this time a social-democratic government had been elected in Spain, and the new prime minister Jose Zapatero had announced that Spain would be withdrawing its troops from Iraq and, practically in the same breath, that Spain would be dramatically increasing its presence in Afghanistan. I was disgusted by the fact that the crowd cheered Zapateros election, with encouragement from the stage. Many people at the rally, if not the majority, were also not even against the Canadian occupation of Afghanistan (it might be worth remembering that the social democrats of the NDP had not yet even adopted their current oppositional posture) and believed that Canada had a long peacekeeping tradition.
Stopwar.ca had formed around the lead-up to the Iraq war to put pressure on Jean Chrétiens Liberal Party government. The group consisted of a wide assortment of left groups such as the Communist Party of Canada, the International Socialists and, originally, the Vancouver-based organization Fire This Time Movement for Social Justice (FTT), along with a Liberal Party cabinet minister. Despite my disgust for Stopwar.ca, I did not yet realize what was wrong with it in class terms: it covered for the racist Canadian rulers fake antiwar posture, and strove for an alliance with a wing of the capitalist class, to whom it necessarily subordinated the diametrically opposed interests of the working class and oppressed.
At the end of the rally, I took a newspaper from FTT, whose supporters had set up their own antiwar coalition, Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO). I was drawn to the group because I thought it was more militant than Stopwar.ca. I also liked its support for the Cuban revolution. I began working with MAWO in July 2004 and was soon handing out FTT newspapers and petitioning with MAWO to then-prime minister Paul Martin to bring the troops home from Afghanistan. It did not occur to me that these politics were fundamentally the same as Stopwar.cas.
One day while I was petitioning with MAWO I bought a copy of Workers Vanguard from the Trotskyist League. Id heard from some of the more active members of MAWO that the Spartacists, among other things, were in practice sectarian and only interested in disrupting the work of other groups. I took that caricature as true at the time and unfortunately did not attempt to investigate for myself.
After actively working with MAWO for several months, I was invited to join FTTs Youth-Third World Alliance (Y3WA). I was told that this organization, whose main work is to direct FTTs other front groups, was trying to build a revolutionary movement in Canada against capitalism and imperialism. I joined Y3WA in November 2004.
We would often go to different mosques to distribute the FTT newspaper and MAWO literature. On more than one occasion, I went inside the mosque with FTT leader Ivan Drury, a former anarchist who has now converted to Shia Islam. To get a better hearing for our politics, we participated in the prayers! I did not see a problem with this at first, but once I began to rethink certain fundamental aspects of MAWO/FTTs politics, it became clear that we were helping to perpetuate and reinforce religious illusion, itself a tool of reaction.
A few months after joining Y3WA, I began to question the uncritical support we and FTT were offering to Vancouvers municipal social democrats, the Coalition of Progressive Electors (COPE), in their 2005 re-election campaign. During its first term in office, COPE and then-city mayor, ex-RCMP officer Larry Campbell, hired more cops and launched police offensives into the desperately poor and disproportionately Native Downtown Eastside. Now I began to understand what FTT & Co. meant by opposing sectarianism. In the lead-up to an internal meeting, I produced quotes by Lenin and Trotsky calling to expose reformists who keep struggles in the confines of capitalism. I was denounced. One Y3WA member replied that Lenin and Trotsky were dead and that Fidel Castro had used even the Pope for class struggle!
The logic behind his argument was that Castro had invited the Pope into Cuba and that the Pope had criticized the U.S. sanctions imposed on Cuba. In fact, the Popes visit was a clear illustration of how the Stalinist bureaucracies act as a transmission belt for imperialist pressure. Most importantly, the Cuban bureaucracy gave the Pope virtually unlimited access to its media and he denounced materialism and secularism, a move that could only encourage counterrevolutionary internal dissidents. A bulletin of the TLs comrades in the U.S., Cuba and Marxist Theory, which I sought out independently, was decisive in helping me reach the conclusion that Cuba is a deformed workers state—a society where capitalism has been replaced by socialist property forms but political power is in the hands of a parasitic, nationalist bureaucracy.
Y3WA held an internal educational on Cuba around this time. In retrospect, it seems ironic that while MAWO poses as an organization of young people and fresh ideas, its leaders in FTT and Y3WA base their internal educationals on the politics and written materials of burnt out fake-Trotskyists from the United Secretariat of the 1970s, such as Joseph Hansen. When I tried to argue for my views during the class on Cuba, the other members of the organization refused to respond politically. I was informed I could not raise political criticisms at internal meetings without the prior consent of the leadership. Bureaucratically censored and accused of being almost as reactionary as the TL, I resigned from Y3WA for political reasons in January 2006, after which I was even banned from making any comments at MAWOs public forums.
The 1917 Russian Revolution
Shortly after leaving Y3WA, I talked to the Spartacus Youth Club and TL. The International Communist League, of which the TL is the Canadian section, claimed forthrightly to be the party of the Russian Revolution. They used the language of the Russian Revolution and argued in terms of class against class, completely unlike the eclectic nationalist and populist rhetoric we had used in Y3WA. I was also struck by the ICLs integrity, which FTT lacked precisely because it wasnt revolutionary. Unlike FTT, who adapted themselves to the false consciousness pushed by anti-working-class forces, the ICL would expose the misleaders of the working class as well as every manifestation of capitalist oppression in the attempt to make the proletariat conscious of its historic interests as a class.
After reading Lenins Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism in an SYC readers circle, I understood that imperialism is not simply a policy, but a system, and that putting an end to imperialist war necessarily means smashing the capitalist state through workers socialist revolution. MAWO, Stopwar.ca, and other groups in the antiwar or peace movement, on the other hand, spread the illusion that the capitalist rulers can be pressured to abandon their objective interests. For example, the May 2003 issue of Fire This Time made the patently absurd claim, just two months after the imperialist shock and awe invasion of Iraq, that the peace crawls in Vancouver had effectively influenced imperialist politics.
In public classes, readers circles and other organized discussions with the SYC and TL, I learned that the living example of what is required to end imperialist war was the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia. Under the leadership of the Bolshevik party of Lenin and Trotsky, the working class and oppressed smashed the capitalist state, created a workers state based on workers councils (soviets) and expropriated the bourgeoisie. Russia had been in the midst of a reactionary interimperialist war that was being fought to re-divide the colonial world and spheres of financial influence among the competing imperialist countries. As revolutionary internationalists, the Bolsheviks called for the defeat of all sides in the war, took Russia out of it, and granted the right of self-determination to the nations in the former Tsarist prison house of peoples. The creation of a workers state also led to the repeal of all laws against homosexuality and the legalization of abortion, and the Bolsheviks took the first steps to replace the institution of the family, the material basis for womens oppression under capitalism, with socialized reproductive labour such as communal kitchens and childcare.
After a devastating civil war to defend soviet power in an already backward and predominantly peasant country, the defeat of revolutionary opportunities in other countries (especially Germany), and the loss of many of the most class-conscious Bolsheviks in the civil war, a nationalist bureaucratic caste led by Joseph Stalin usurped political power from the working class in the Soviet Union in a 1923-24 political counterrevolution. Although bureaucratically ruled, the Soviet Union nonetheless remained a workers state founded on collectivized property forms which, among other things, provided the population with full employment, free education and cheap housing. Trotskyists called for its unconditional military defense against capitalism and internal counterrevolution, which they linked to the need for political revolution to replace the Stalinists with a revolutionary internationalist leadership based on workers councils. The bureaucracy sold out revolutionary opportunities in Western Europe and the colonial and semicolonial world in the name of building socialism in one country and peaceful coexistence with imperialism. But the Stalinist bureaucracy also had a dual nature and was sometimes compelled in its own way to defend the collectivized property forms.
The catastrophic 1991-92 capitalist counterrevolution in the Soviet Union, which the ICL fought against to the end to the best of its limited resources, led to a massive increase in poverty and hunger as gross domestic product fell by over 80 percent between 1991 and 1997. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states in Eastern Europe also led to an historic retrogression of consciousness as the international working class ceased to view their defensive struggles as connected to a broader struggle for socialism, however they may have interpreted this. The imperialists attacked the Soviet Union using all forms of religious reaction. Along with Stalinist betrayals and Arab nationalisms bankruptcy, the collapse of the Soviet Union has led, among other things, to a further rise of political Islam.
FTT and Tailing Backward Consciousness
FTT is a perfect example of the post-Soviet retrogression of consciousness. Their program is the social patriotism and pacifism typical of so many antiwar liberals in imperialist countries. They awkwardly balance that with a vicarious form of militant Third World nationalism of a distinctly Islamist bent. Whats the connection? Completely devoid of any sense of the historic interests of the working class, FTT tails virtually every movement they come across, including those that are very retrograde. On a day-to-day level, their idiosyncratic politics are held together by the highly personalist regime of leader Ali Yerevani, a self-proclaimed participant in the Iranian Revolution.
The 1979 Iranian Revolution produced a horrific defeat for the working class. The organizations of the Iranian proletariat were all but destroyed in year after year of blood-drenched repression by the new Islamic regime. The mullahs seizure of power was also a death sentence for secular women, gays and national minorities. Rather than anti-imperialism, the Iranian clerics were motivated by opposition to the token modernizing reforms made by the bloody U.S.-backed Shah. When the rest of the left ran after Ayatollah Khomeinis reactionary mass movement, the international Spartacist tendency, forebear of the ICL, fought to break workers and leftists from their soon-to-be assassins and said: Down with the Shah! Dont bow to Khomeini! For workers revolution in Iran! and No to the veil!
Unsurprisingly, despite FTTs enthusiasm for 1979, nowhere in writing has it called for defense of Irans contemporary nuclear program. Without giving any political support to the Iranian government, the ICL says Iran needs nuclear weapons to defend itself from the current imperialist threat.
While cheering various capitalist rulers in the semicolonial world, including recently the Catholic anti-abortion bigot Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua (Fire This Time, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2006), in Vancouver FTT channels anti-militarist sentiment into mindless liberal protest politics punctuated by Canadian nationalism. For instance, a MAWO press release called the death of a Canadian retired RCMP officer in Haiti a senseless and tragic loss, and theyve held frequent emergency pickets to protest the deaths of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan. We communists welcome any military setbacks inflicted on the imperialist rulers, without giving an iota of support to the same forces that also frequently launch reactionary and indiscriminate communalist attacks. We call for their military defense only insofar as they target the imperialists and their lackeys.
From MAWO to the SYC
For over a year, I worked with MAWOs front group at the University of British Columbia. The SYC would sometimes intervene at the groups events, where MAWOs slogan of self-determination for all oppressed nations was a main theme. I remember once that the SYC showed up and exposed MAWO et al. for not publicly advocating or even mentioning Quebec independence, a most vital question for any group in Canada that claims to oppose national oppression.
Now, after some months of political struggle, education and joint work, Im with the SYC, the youth organization of the TL. Stung by that and unable or unwilling to defend themselves politically against our criticisms, MAWOs UBC front group has barred us from their public events, and recently even called on the UBC student bureaucracy to enforce the ban.
The SYC intervenes into social struggles to mobilize youth as partisans of the working class and all the oppressed. We sell Workers Vanguard and Spartacist Canada, hold Marxist classes and are active in the campaign to free U.S. death-row prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. We fight the post-Soviet retrogression of consciousness by swimming against the stream and intervening to raise the political consciousness of the proletariat, rather than adapt to it. We fight to win the best elements of the antiwar movement away from its dead-end pro-capitalist politics, and to educate them in a Marxist worldview and the necessity of building a vanguard party that fights for international socialist revolution.