Image: Czechoslovak avant-garde painter
Frantisek Foltyn, Imperialismus (1925)
Note: Just to be clear about my own relationship to Platypus as an organization, I must again remind readers that I am not currently a member, though I am obviously still sympathetic to its cause. This letter clarifies a number of common misperceptions and baseless accusations that are leveled against it. Even if such accusations were true, however, I find it the height of hypocrisy that anyone, especially university professors, would refuse to participate in Platypus events on the ground that it supposedly “lends ideological support” to reactionary ideologies like Zionism or imperialism. This is all the more true given the fact that most of them hold positions at universities and routinely speak on campuses subsidized by the U.S. military (and all the foreign military forces it aids), in return for the advanced weapons technologies their research and development departments provide.
Submitted as a letter to the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) Weekly Worker on May 21, 2013.
We in Platypus have been called out for taking an alleged at least tacit “pro-imperialist” political position. The CPGB’s Mike Macnair and others have characterized our expressed opinion, that we “did not support” the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (and Libya), as implying that we also “did not oppose” them. This is untrue.
The Spartacists, for example, take the position of “no political support” for Right-wing military forces against the U.S. and its allies. But what they really wanted in Iraq was not the military and political victory of the insurgency against the occupation, but rather a meteorite to hit the Green Zone. But this was not a political position. For what the Spartacists among others wanted was a military defeat for the U.S. government et al. without this being a concomitant political victory for the Iraqi Right — former Baathists and Sunni and Shia Islamists. Let’s not mince words: such forces are the Right, at least as much as the U.S. government and its allies are. It is not the case that somehow the action of Baathists and Sunni and Shia Islamists increased democratic possibilities in Iraq against the U.S. government and allied occupation.
The actual Iraqi Left — the Iraqi Communist Party and Worker-communist Party of Iraq — chose politically not to mount its own let alone join in the existing military forces occasionally opposing the U.S. government and allied occupation, but rather to oppose the latter as well as the former in other ways, through working class organizing and strike action, to some limited success, for instance in preventing the privatization of the Iraqi oil industry. The international Left largely scorned them, in favor of a fantastical imagined “anti-imperialist” insurgency, which was not that but rather an ethno-religious sectarian-communal civil war among forces targeting each other far more than they targeted the U.S. government and its allies, jockeying for a position within the occupation and its political settlement, not against it.
The same is true regarding supposed “anti-imperialist” politics. In Iraq, the former Baathists, and Sunni and Shia traditionalists and Islamists may have opposed the U.S. government and its allies on occasion and over specific issues, but they were not in any way anti-imperialist. They were at best petit-bourgeois democrats, at worst sectarian communalists and (at least quasi-)fascists. They could and indeed have in fact provided local political leadership and power-structures that serve global capitalism and oppose the interests of workers both locally and internationally. Just because they and the U.S. government and its allies might oppose each other occasionally does not mean that they express fundamentally different social forces. They are all pro-capitalist, and all anti-democratic.
The question is one’s attitude towards the state. One can oppose the police politically without thinking that withdrawing them from poor neighborhoods immediately is a good idea. Should street gangs take over in their place? And the gang example is quite instructive, since they fight against each other more than they do against the state, with which they strike a modus vivendi. One might imagine that police withdrawal and gang takeover opens possibilities for working class democratic action, but it doesn’t, since the very gangs that the police once fought against, however weakly, would simply be enlisted by the police once the working class took any action that the greater ruling class needed to oppose. This is because the gangs are part of the capitalist system. Indeed, they are a constant resource for the state and for the capitalist class, not an opposition — let alone a democratic one — to it. This is seen simply in how the capitalist ruling class recruits its members from among literal gangsters, historically and up to the present. “Gangs” are merely less politically successful capitalists. This is why, for instance, the capitalist state constantly seeks to characterize labor unions as “gangsters,” as labor “racketeers” — which indeed they do degenerate into, with more or less respectability as junior capitalists, without the struggle for socialism.
Moreover, the phenomenon of geographical regions relatively lacking in the stable rule of bourgeois law-and-order is not only not particularly good for the workers and other democratic interests locally, but also not elsewhere, since it contributes to the potential political degradation everywhere, for instance by justifying greater police repression elsewhere to contain the zones of disorder. Those who think that local disorder is good are giving in to at best nationalist politics (whether or not dressed up as ideologically different from this, for instance in religious garb), not promoting the global liberation of the working class or the increased democratic self-determination of society.
So the question is not whether Platypus opposed U.S. et al. imperialism, but rather why we thought that the Left suffered from a glaring lack of adequate perspectives on how to actually politically oppose imperialist aggression. Platypus was founded in response to the failure of the anti-war movement, and we were motivated to host the conversation on the potential political reasons for this. This was slandered by the existing, failing Left as somehow opposing the anti-war movement, where what we opposed was its fatal misleadership. And we wanted to open the broadest possible discussion of the problem of such misleadership. It is not an accident that we hosted our first public forum as a conversation between various different anti-imperialist perspectives. Only a deliberate distortion of the facts can characterize our project otherwise.
We in Platypus opposed the U.S. invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and more recently in Libya. We only questioned how they could be opposed that would not further degrade the workers and other democratic interests politically. We felt that the anti-war movement’s misleadership opened it to criticisms by liberals and social democrats who indeed supported the war that the anti-war movement couldn’t adequately answer let alone win over. And it is indeed the task of a true Left to win over or at least neutralize such ostensibly democratic politics — not to provide “Leftist” rationalizations for some temporary and opportunistic oppositions that might occasionally come from the hard-bitten Right of nationalists or worse. It is not for the Left to make common cause with the Right against the Center, for the Right is even more consistently pro-imperialist — pro-capitalist — than the liberals and social democrats are.
That’s the truth the current (mis)leading “Left” can’t face, and so they attack Platypus instead for pointing this out. We say, “The Left is dead!” because it’s become a protest-demonstration organizing gang for time-servers in a membership-dues racket. Of course they object to the unmasking of their ideological adaptation to and political complicity, however minor, with the capitalist status quo. We say, “Long live the Left!” because it is long since past time to stop regarding the capitalist system’s disreputable elements as some emancipatory force, substituting this for what does not yet but needs to exist politically.
— Chris Cutrone, Platypus Affiliated Society