Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Northites Salute Generals and Finks (1999)

Workers Vanguard No. 710, 5 February 1999

Northites Salute Generals and Finks

Longtime political bandits and renegades from Trotskyism, the Socialist Equality Party (SEP, formerly Workers League) has now descended to actively saluting imperialism’s war chiefs. When Clinton carried out his terror bombing of Iraq in December, the Spartacist League forthrightly declared: “Defend Iraq! Defeat U.S. Imperialism Through Workers Revolution!” In stark contrast, a “World Socialist Web Site” piece by Martin McLaughlin and SEP national secretary David North, dated 19 December 1998, describes the attack as “a shameful chapter in American history” and explicitly counterposes the supposed glories of yesteryear’s imperialist war-making:
“This much is certain: 50 years from now no one will be making films like Patton, The Longest Day or Saving Pvt. Ryan about their exploits.
“One need not agree with the politics of such World War II-era commanders as
Eisenhower, Bradley, Patton, and Nimitz to acknowledge that they, at least, led
their armies against an enemy fully capable of firing back.”
Like a newsreel from Hollywood’s World War II propaganda mill, North and McLaughlin carefully omit the atrocities committed by the U.S. military in that interimperialist war as they list “searing images that profoundly influenced the political consciences of several generations”:
Next to those produced by the opening of the Nazi death camps, the most unforgettable images were those of the German Luftwaffe raining bombs on defenseless populations....
“The manner in which Japan initiated hostilities – bombing Pearl Harbor without warning – outraged millions. For decades to come, the phrase ‘sneak attack’ was synonymous with the basest form of treachery
What happened to the “searing images” of the nightly pounding of German cities by U.S. and British bombers and the firebombing of Dresden? What about the U.S. government rounding up Japanese Americans into concentration camps for the duration of the war? What about the indelible image of the mushroom clouds produced by American atom bombs dropping on already defeated Japan, incinerating Hiroshima and Nagasaki? “Down the memory hole,” as another current hero of the Northites, George Orwell, would have said.

If you’re looking for heroes by the criteria of the SEP why not pick Karl Donitz, admiral of the World War II German submarine fleet. In the First World War, he commanded a submarine that sank. In the next, he lost two sons. The U-boat crews under his command were also heroic, because they kept fighting even when 90 percent were gone. The problem here is that bravery is not a social, or class, criterion. This is made very clear in the movie Das Boot.

One would never know from the Northites that the Trotskyists opposed all the imperialist powers in World War II while calling for the unconditional military defense of the degenerated Soviet workers state. In 1939, James P. Cannon, in the course of his great battle to preserve Trotskyism in the U.S. on the eve of the war, summed up the program of the then-revolutionary Socialist Workers Party (SWP):
1. The main enemy is in our own coun try – expose and fight the Roosevelt-Hoover combination.
“2. Defend the Soviet Union in spite of Stalin against Stalin.”

The Strugglefor a Proletarian Party (1943 edition)
Eighteen leaders of the SWP and Minneapolis Teamsters union were sentenced to Sandstone federal penitentiary for opposition to the imperialist war. In a May Day 1945 speech, his first after serving 13 months in prison, Cannon reiterated the revolutionaries ‘ position:
We said from the very beginning: It isn't a war for democracy against fascism; it isn’t a war for justice and freedom. That is not true. It is a war of imperialist rivals; it is a war for profits to be coined out of the blood of the people of Europe and Asia, and eventually for the enslavement and degradation of the workers here at home....
“What can they show, the masters of the world, but ruined cities, mounds of corpses, and millions of starving people? That is the auspices under which American imperialism enters its day of glory as the master of the world.”
– “The End of the War in Europe;” The Struggle for Socialism in the 'American Century'
The obscene, gagging patriotism with which North & Co. embrace the military commanders of U.S. imperialism in WWII finds its reflection in alibis for those who served in the postwar anti- Communist crusade. As we commented in “David North’s ‘Left’ McCarthyism” (WV No. 702, 4 December 1998): “The heritage North defends is not that of Trotskyism, which was embodied through the 1950s in the now-reformist SWP, but of anti-Communist renegades like Irving Howe and George Orwell, who spied for His Majesty’s secret service against ‘Soviet totalitarianism’.” Not Surpris ingly, we also find on the SEP Web site a full-blown apologia for Orwell under the byline of eternal toady Fred Mazelis (“George Orwell and the British Foreign Office,” 9 September 1998).

It came out last summer that Orwell, the British author of Animal Farm and 1984 and coiner of the phrase “Big Brother is watching you,” was doing a lit tle watching of his own. In 1949, Orwell turned a list of some 35 people he considered to be in the orbit of the Stalinirds over to a unit of the British Foreign Office set up to disseminate anti-Soviet prop aganda. Rising from Orwell’s snotty comments on “crypto-Communists and fellow travelers” is a nasty whiff of anti- gay and anti-Semitic bigotry. By Charlie Chaplin’s name, Orwell writes “Jewish?” in parentheses. The powerful black American singer and actor Paul Robeson, he charges, is “very anti-white.” Poet Stephen Spender gets the remark, “Very unreliable. Easily influenced. Tendency towards homosexuality.” And on and on.

Yet here Mazelis finds evidence of Orwell’s dignity, opining:
On one level, Orwell’s action in turning over these comments was not the same as those of the political cowards who sought to save their careers during the McCarthyite witch-hunt by ‘naming names’ of prominent figures who had been in or around the Communist Party years earlier. In Orwell’s case, there was no cowardice or personal opportunism involved. He was never a man to curry favor with the establishment, and the political characterizations on his list were by and large similar to sentiments he had expressed publicly.”
If anything, in Orwell’s case it was worse than “cowardice” and “opportunism” Nobody even had to threaten Orwell. There was no subpoena. There was no wrecking of career, no public humiliation in hearings of the House Un-American Activities Committee, no prison sentence looming. Unlike those who ratted because they couldn’t stand up to the terrorizing witchhunts, Orwell finked voluntarily. Nevertheless, Mazelis posits that “there is no way of knowing exactly where he would have ended up politically if he had lived another two or three decades.”

Well, we have a pretty good idea. After all, “My country, right or left,” Orwell famously commented, and he meant it. During World War II, Orwell spent time in the British Home Guard and put in a good two years, from 1941 to late 1943, broadcasting for the BBC as part of Britain’s propaganda effort toward its restive colonial possession, India. As Clive James puts ,it in his glorification of Orwell in the New Yorker (18 January), Orwell told his Indian audience “that they had a better chance with the British than with the Japanese.” This from one who was formerly a bitter critic of British imperialism in the East. So it’s not illogical that he went that, next, dirty step, sneaking his vindictive comments to his British imperialist masters.

And where will David North’s SEP end up? It’s hard to predict the exact trajectory of such an unsavory and unstable outfit. But as the author of Animal Farm might have put it, “in the end you couldn’t tell the Northites from the pigs.”