Marking the 99th anniversary of the armistice that ended WWI, we are faced with a historic impasse as communists and anti-imperialists in the core countries. A grand inter-imperialist war that ultimately tested the resolve of so-called “progressives” that could not bring themselves to oppose what they saw as an opportunity for national glory. It was a conflict that eventually claimed the lives of around 20 million people and ushered in the embryonic conditions of an even greater conflict just two decades later. Millions were drafted, forced to march into battle and face certain death. French troops were punished with decimation for attempted mutiny or mass desertion. It was impossible to maintain unity in what seemed like an apocalyptic war. But a century has passed, and volunteer armies dominate the imperialist countries, and with the technical and logistical revolution in the imperialist militaries, they are virtually all “professional” armies in an increasingly petty bourgeois sense.
The united $tates military, which dominates the western world in nearly all spheres, is the last place one would expect to find revolutionary—that is, revolutionary communist—ideas growing. Certainly discontentedness does exist, and where it does there is a certain friction between the enlisted men and their officers, but this rarely boils over into anything interesting. Once they have left the service, the frustrated veterans tend to be more jingoistic and generally richer than their civilian counterparts, with better prospects. At the moment all evidence points to the military as an impenetrable zone for communists and anti-imperialists. However, at some point we must do so. We are reminded of the fourth condition of membership in the Communist International:
Persistent and systematic propaganda and agitation must be carried on in the army, where Communist groups should be formed in every military organization. Wherever owing to repressive legislation agitation becomes impossible, it is necessary to carry on such agitation illegally. But refusal to carry on or participate in such work should be considered equal to treason to the revolutionary cause, and incompatible with affiliation to the Third International.
Again, nearly a century has passed since this declaration and many things have changed. However, with the accelerated collapse of the united $tates and western imperialists, and increasingly erratic expansionism and rampant militarism, we see that it may still be necessary to conduct such struggle. This has been taken for granted by many leftist circles, many of which believe the most generous fantasies of revolutionary impulses in the military, and have been sold on a reality that does not exist. We cannot take this question for granted, and a realistic portrait must be painted of the existing situation and the possibilities for struggle in the future. We must be highly aware of all existing complexities, and potential dangers in approaching this question, and must be highly critical when analysing its prospects.
Discontent and Dissent
It is clear that even now, with a rather rich volunteer army and low casualty rate, there is tension within the ranks and a sense of discontent among soldiers. Among veterans, this angst is normally vented into far-right, semi-fascist and fascist political projects and paramilitary activity, all of which is poisonous to proletarian power and internationalism. However, among the discontent present among soldiers, expressed mostly through lethargy and racism, we find real dissent. Those who are shocked by what they experience and take it upon themselves to act in accordance to their conscience and accept terrible consequences for it. In most cases this dissent is individual, ineffectual and lacking real progressive character, but nonetheless it demonstrates small fractures in the whole.
One very recent example is Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who only narrowly dodged a life-sentence for deserting his post in Afghanistan, shortly before being captured by the Taliban-allied Haqqani network. Bergdahl made very clear in both his interview by military investigators and the emails he sent to his parents, that his decision was dictated by his conscience. Something he elaborated quite effectively in an anecdote to his interviewer, wherein he recalled having left injured Afghan soldiers stranded on the roadside after having suffered an IED blast. He notes that it was the Afghan people who were asked to make the ultimate sacrifice in the so-called “war on terror” on behalf of amerika, while their u.$. “allies” left them to die in acts of shameless self-interest and apathy. In his final email to his parents before deserting, Bergdahl said:
I am sorry for everything here. These people need help, yet what they get is the most conceited country in the world telling them that they are nothing and that they are stupid, that they have no idea how to live… We don’t even care when we hear each other talk about running their children down in the dirt streets with our armored trucks… We make fun of them in front of their faces, and laugh at them for not understanding we are insulting them […] I am sorry for everything. The horror that is america is disgusting.
It is clear that such feelings, motivated by the subjective disgust with the realities of amerikan imperialism, can lead to genuine dissent. Sometimes this dissent can even carry quite a bit of weight, as in the case of Chelsea Manning, who exposed amerikan war crimes in Iraq which cost her 6 years of her life, and endless torment at the hands of amerikan authorities. However these acts are few and far between, much less common than in Vietnam, which were themselves a rarity when weighed against the mutinous actions of soldiers fighting in WWI. The problem with utilizing this kind of dissent for the purposes of building the revolutionary movement is that it is individual, lacking any broader network or base. Such bases have to be built, but there exists the problem of material conditions that inform the consciousness of soldiers.
Such dissenters—though they might be noble—are isolated and acting against the current of political thought and attitudes in the military. The legionnaire consciousness that defines the imperial volunteers often consolidates against such acts of dissent responding to the general despondency of amerikan soldiers regarding their failed military campaigns. Such reactions are so virulent that even stereotyped, liberal anti-war songs—take Rise Against’s “Hero of War”, for instance—were met with actual death threats from active and veteran servic-emembers. After all, it was fellow soldiers that intended to see Bergdahl rot in a cell for the rest of his life for desertion, and that have continued to issue threats of targeted assassination against Chelsea Manning and others labeled “whistleblowers” by the united $tates government and media. Such action bears maximum retaliation with minimum support.
Seeding the Earth for Revolution
If discontent exists but is being utilized for reactionary means, and is consolidating consciousness toward a fascist, legionnaire mentality, what can we do to expand proletarian hegemony and build networks that support revolutionary dissent? Unfortunately, at the moment material conditions do not favor our ability to do so. The current flows powerfully in the direction of stability in the amerikan ranks, it is outside the military where the real unrest exists. Inside the united $tates military, the social structures that exist are braced by professionalism and wealth, as well as a healthy dose of jingoistic nationalism, to say nothing of racism. So long as the amerikan army exists as a volunteer army, and the revolutionary movement exists largely partyless and broken, there is little to nothing that can be done to change this fact.
Agitation in the military remains a high-stakes and low-yield game, which cannot be sustained without the powerful proletarian and anti-power hegemony of a concentrated revolutionary movement. Before we can think of networks within the military, we must first think of building the hegemonic bulwarks of the revolutionary party and its mass organizations. We must seed the earth for revolution, and focus on building hegemony that can push its roots into less fertile territory. The risks of premature agitation within the military greatly outweigh their current benefit, without networks of support their collapse could send residual shockwaves outward at non-military revolutionary networks. Let us remember the penalty suffered by groups like FRSO (Fightback) for simply acting in opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which suffered more than a dozen FBI raids.
That is not to say we should not be bold. Risks are an inherent part of revolutionary organization, and we should not shrink from them simply because of the very real threats that exist for our comrades. We should expect no easy victories, but at the same time no effort can be built simply upon a demand for martyrs, and without networks to support the activity of revolutionaries in the military, what we are asking for amounts to a simple call for martyrdom. Revolutionary movements, built upon the foundations of proletarian heroism and the bravery of combatants, unfortunately cannot survive through a sole expression of martyrdom.
Such adventurist plots only serve to waste human and logistical resources to create martyrs that, though powerful, ultimately fall far short of the value of organized institutions. That said, we cannot allow ourselves to be cowed by these threats. We should act tactically, and for now we have neither the resolve nor the resources to maintain organized agitation and resistance within the military. For us, the situation regarding dissenters in the military remains the same: that soldiers obey their consciences and dessert, resign, and agitate outside the military. Soldiers who refuse to do so are enemies of the world proletariat, conscious legionaries, and dangerous not only to the lives of the oppressed, but the future prospects of proletarian power.
We must double our efforts toward the consolidation of a revolutionary bloc capable of maintaining hegemony, and building institutions that would be valuable to eventual agitation in the military. It takes a powerful cultural/political hegemony to reverse the legionnaire consciousness that flows so naturally from the objective conditions of soldiers, and without it we are laying naked among wolves. Instead, what we can do is attack the jingoistic and reactionary veterans organizations from a firm anti-war and anti-imperialist position, and reject their tacit support for the ongoing war efforts and retaliatory measures exacted against those who speak out against the wars’ atrocities against Third World people. For now the best we can muster is a place for independently political veterans and soldiers who are willing and capable of leaving behind the military in favor of something new. In this effort we should echo our previous declaration:
We should not give room to the liberal feel-good inclinations of first-worldist sympathies for imperialist butchers; instead we give support to those comrades who have betrayed the interests of the united $tates and its army in order to fight on the side of the oppressed people of the world whom they were enlisted to occupy, murder, and enslave. The contingents of the oppressor classes that we break off to fight alongside the world proletariat in the global struggle for communism must not become the focus of our revolutionary program, but must align themselves under a program of the world proletariat.
A Potential Shift in Conditions
Beyond what we are currently familiar with, we should also remember that conditions can change rapidly and without significant indication to their direction. This is doubly true in an era of multipolarity and moribund neoliberalism, where the possibilities of collapse and inter-imperialist conflict are becoming increasingly likely. Such shifts in the material conditions we are faced with could soon change the reality of struggle within and without the military, potentially for the worse if we are not prepared for it. While the demand for sacrifice in times of war can create a greater instability, the longer a state of war is maintained, it does not necessarily indicate any inherent move toward a revolutionary consciousness or situation. That is something we must, to a degree, manufacture through the exercise of our own hegemony. Further, the context of war, that is, major war, also carries an intensification of consequences for what is seen as “disloyalty” and the greater possibility for more intense repression under the guise of national security. To a degree we have already witnessed this with the internal retaliations against any conscious or “suspicious” Muslim in the united $tates.
Although a major inter-imperialist war could increase the margin by which the revolutionary forces are able to interact with veterans and active soldiers, it still requires the ability to centralize and create stable networks for agitation. Without those, even a change in material conditions in the form of war or collapse does not necessarily generate a substantial opening for our entry into a typically hostile environment. To this end we must realize that we have a certain responsibility to prepare the groundwork for such an instance to become advantageous for us. That is of course not to say we wish for a new, large war, on the contrary we should warn against one precisely because of our lack of hegemonic power. We should not rely on the spontaneity of material conditions to make revolution for us, that is the role of conscious organization. Without conscious organization, dramatic shifts such as the institution of a draft, the widening of recruiting efforts and the reduction of veteran benefits do not necessarily assist our agitation efforts, and can undermine whatever organization we currently do have.
Toward a Plan of Action
So, accounting for the potential for dramatic shifts in the material conditions we are currently working in, we need to develop a flexible strategy that focuses on building the central institutions of authority and organization among our social base, before we move into the territory of the hostile middling classes. It should not be assumed that a dramatic shift in conditions would be a positive one, but any advantageous shift in conditions cannot be seized upon without proper organization. This more or less requires a revolutionary center in the form of a party, which has the capacity to manage the diverse needs of revolutionary networks within and without the military, and the various institutions and mass organizations necessary for making revolution. However, in interaction with the non-proletarian, middling classes—as predominate in the core countries—the revolutionary movement must be prepared to enforce the program of the proletariat over them and to infuse proletarian interests into the struggles of those we involve.
To do this we need some kind of real hegemonic power, and this is built organically from our base in the global proletariat present in the Third World and enclaves in the First World, as well as the declassed, colonized lumpenproletariat. We cannot call upon the hostile middling classes to build, for us, the revolutionary party of the international proletariat, and—containing amerikan class-national interests—to affect the decolonization of north amerika. This is something that we must build and whose program we must enforce among those defectors who come over to our side, preceding our ability to more effectively agitate among them. And when such networks can be built among the ranks of the military, our demands must be clear and internationalist, demanding unity with the global proletariat above “brotherhood” or “duty” in the imperialist military or with imperialist soldiers.
We must remember what it means to make revolution in a time of reactionary and imperialist warfare, and therefore what it means to agitate among soldiers who are engaged in fighting such a war. What we are calling for is not national cohesion, but national discordance, and the transformation of conflict serving the imperialists and social parasites into a conflict that targets them. To pull from Lenin on the doctrine of revolutionary defeatism:
A revolution in wartime means civil war; the conversion of a war between governments into a civil war is, on the one hand, facilitated by military reverses (“defeats”) of governments; on the other hand, one cannot actually strive for such a conversion without thereby facilitating defeat.
We should not “soften” our position on the imperialist military, or lend ourselves to any kind of thinking that replaces real material conditions with an analysis simply of “discontent” among its ranks. However we must approach a concrete notion of hegemony and how to affect it, and unfortunately without real central organization we can see no future in traversing the hostile territory of the middling classes. Such careless adventurism lends itself toward liquidation of the revolutionary movement either physically or ideologically. Rather, we should remain firm in our attachment to a bold revolutionary program, which prioritizes the interests of the global proletariat and builds itself from the embryonic social base existing in the colonized working class and lumpenproletariat of the First World. This is the core that must be attended to in order to grow a truly revolutionary party capable of leading the hegemonic expansion into currently inaccessible space. Only with the interests of the global proletariat as our pole-star, can we advance toward genuine proletarian revolution.
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