France: Committees for the Fourth International, April 1941

“A Propos of ‘Trade-Union Control of National Defense’,” by Comrade C.

“The Committee’s Reply to Comrade C.”

A Propos of “Trade-Union Control of National Defense”

(Letter sent to the Committee by Comrade C.)
The French text of this letter was taken from Bulletin Mensuel de la IVe Internationale (zone libre), No. 2, April 1941.
The translation is by the Prometheus Research Library. Quotations from the SWP resolution
have been changed to conform to the English original.

Continued from left column

Roosevelt the chance to form some sort of “parity committees” within the army, that is, to drag the working class into war? In that case, Roosevelt himself, not the SWP, would be the one most concerned with ensuring that soldiers have good material conditions and are well equipped (look at the example of the German army).

The strikes taking place in the United States demonstrate the existence of a working class fighting for transitional demands, which for the moment distance it from the union sacrée with its bourgeoisie. So these strikes are political in character and the role of a true vanguard party must be to push the movement toward a revolutionary outcome. There is a sharp contradiction between the fact of the strikes and the slogan advanced by the SWP leadership.

Here in Europe, lacking detailed and precise information, we are not very well able to measure the workers’ resistance to the bourgeoisie and to the trade-union bureaucracy. We know the dangers that such a conflict entails, but once it is begun—and we should push to begin it—the revolutionary party must fight to win political leadership of it. The workers’ independence from the interests of their own bourgeoisie underscores the contradictions—which at that point can be resolved only by extreme solutions. At this time, we do not know what the practical result will be. Either we will be faced with favorable prospects or subjected to severe restrictions on the possibilities for struggle. In any case, the position of the SWP will prove wrong, whatever the result of the current strikes.

Revolutionary policy should always be clearly defined for the working class which is waiting for an orientation. If the American comrades agree with us on the characterization of the imperialist war, we ask them: what interests of the working class does the militarization of that class cor­re­spond to? Especially considering that militarization cor­re­sponds precisely to preparation for participation in the war. Such a position does not go beyond that of social democracy which exposes the working class to the warmongering demands of capitalism—which during a period of crisis can resolve matters only by imperialist war.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks taught us that sit­ua­tions change and tactics change with them, but they taught us fidelity to principles, including always stead­fastly opposing intervention in an imperialist war. The ideological future and historical prospects that the convulsions of capitalism promise the pro­le­tar­iat are well beyond those offered by the most care­fully elaborated opportunism.

The current strikes have a clear class content, as does the imperialist war. The American workers will not avoid being dragged into the slaughter and the SWP’s current line (trade-union control of national defense after the “Referendum on War”) does not assist them in setting out on a path other than the one that leads to the battlefield.

The revolutionary possibilities for the world proletariat will arise when the consequences of the conflict begin to become clear. The means to bring forth and ripen these possibilities have been defined by Marxist revolutionaries on many occasions: first, explain the class character of the imperialist war, then total independence of the working class taken to its most extreme conclusions (revolutionary defeatism).

The opportunism we are condemning here is the reflection the masses produce in a small group. Being enmeshed in trade-union activity has led the American comrades to put tactics appropriate to a simple demand and the conquest of power in the same bag.

Our local Committee published the SWP’s position without giving its opinion, since we don’t think the remark that it represents a new sort of tactical tendency which is “original” constitutes an opinion. We won’t discuss the question of “orig­inal­ity,” for us it is quite relative (Jaurès talked a lot about a certain “New Army,” etc.), but we do ac­cuse the local Committee of aiding in sowing confusion, of not opposing something that is con­trary to the principled positions of Bolshevism.

The army plays an important role in the capitalist system: one can say that it forms the backbone of the state. For the bourgeoisie, the army has a dual role: it serves as an instrument to conquer new territories—this inevitable law of the system is the reason the army exists—and at the same time it is a means of coercion against the working class when capitalism comes up against its own internal problems.

Recognizing that the army is the clearest expression of the class division of society means admitting that the highest levels of the capitalist state direct its or­gani­za­tion and functioning toward the dual goal we men­tion­ed. Military discipline is merely subservience fa­bri­cated by the bourgeoisie to serve its interests and requirements.

In every case, whatever the state of de­mor­ali­za­tion in the army may be, in order to find a solution to a revolutionary situation the working class must win over this instrument which will fa­cili­tate its seizure of power. The proletariat should never even think that the capitalist army can evolve, can be transformed, into an army of the working class.

There is no doubt that we are at a stage pre­par­ato­ry to the revolution. In such a stage, the ori­en­ta­tion that should be adopted by a party claiming to be working-class and revolutionary, to be advocated by militants claiming to be Marxists, is to make the proletariat see clearly the contradictions of the capitalist regime, to sharpen those contradictions to the point of creating a situation that impels the masses to fight for power.

And that is where we, as Marxists, find reason to confront the SWP leadership, which says: “We fight against sending worker-soldiers into battle without proper training and without equipment. We oppose the military direction of worker-soldiers by bour­geois officers who have no regard for their treat­ment, their protection or their lives. We demand federal funds for the military training of workers and worker-officers under the control of the trade unions. Military appropriations? Yes—but only for the establishment and equipment of worker training camps! Compulsory training of workers? Yes—but only under the control of the trade unions!”

American capitalism is working feverishly to enter the war under the best circumstances. What it lacks is not just stockpiles of arms and equipment, but also pro-war hysteria among the masses. What prevents this hysteria from being created is formal democracy in the USA (as in France and Eng­land)—that is why, as events unfold, the Amer­ican bourgeoisie will gradually have to rid itself of dem­ocrat­ic impediments. So it cannot grant relative con­trol of the workers by trade-union tops. Sup­posing, however, that the American bour­geoisie did decide to make this concession, the “man­age­ment” of the working class would have a corporatist, fascist character.

In the area of production in general, in certain situations the workers movement has demanded control of production. It goes without saying that the revolutionary vanguard never viewed this control as a way to help capitalism to resolve its crisis, but as a way to deepen it even more and to demonstrate and expose to the working class how the surplus value is allocated. Fascism has been able to heighten its demagogy by granting the workers not “control” but “direct participation” in running the factories. One must not, of course, confuse a factory with a regiment and the army with the capitalist regime as a whole, but the control the American comrades demand does not go in the direction of exposing the very purpose of the army, nor does it further the disintegration of the army. Rather it results in maintaining the cohesiveness of this powerful instrument of the capitalist state whose goal is to resolve the crisis of the system.

Classical “soldiers’ committees” are the in­stru­ments to fight for the democratic demands that soldiers can and should always raise. To con­cede this mission to the American trade unions means reverting to the position of “parity com­mit­tees” that we have seen in the area of pro­duc­tion. Experience has proven that this path leads not toward in­tervention by the working class into the af­fairs of the state, but on the contrary state intervention into the affairs of the working class. Is the SWP giving

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