Marx Without the Realism

Al Diablito
Wed, 15 Jan 2003 17:10:20 -0500

The Online Journal writer makes numerous mistakes and foolish 
generalizations about the "Left" and anti-Americanism vis a vis 9/11. Here 
is a different take from the Trotskyist Fourth International:

Anti-Americanism: The “anti-imperialism” of fools
By David North and David Walsh
22 September 2001

A section of middle class commentators has reacted to the horrific attack on 
New York City and Washington with cynicism and callousness.

What took place on September 11? A group of individuals apparently inspired 
by Islamic fundamentalism, one of the most reactionary ideologies on the 
face of earth, smashed two airplanes into the World Trade Center and a third 
into the Pentagon, while a fourth hijacked plane crashed in western 
Pennsylvania. The result of this carnage was the death of more than 6,000 
human beings, the overwhelming majority of them civilians, representing the 
greatest loss of life in a single day on American soil since the Civil War.

This was a heinous political crime whose predictable outcome has been to 
strengthen the capitalist state, fan the flames of right-wing chauvinism and 
clear the way for US military intervention in Central Asia.

The socialist future of mankind depends upon the awakening of the most 
humane and generous instincts of the working people of the world. What 
happened on September 11—the awful deaths of thousands of innocent people, 
among them office workers, firemen, janitors, and business people—profoundly 
offends those instincts.

In our first statement on the tragedy [The political roots of the terror 
attack on New York and Washington] the World Socialist Web Site initiated an 
analysis of the event’s deep political roots. Our abhorrence of the terror 
attack does not signify any lessening of opposition to the US government, or 
any intention to absolve American officials of their responsibility for the 
building up of the Islamic fundamentalist forces. Having said that, however, 
the reprehensible response of certain petty bourgeois opinion makers to the 
event underscores the gulf that divides socialist opposition to imperialism 
from vulgar anti-Americanism.

A case in point is an article that appeared in the Guardian, the British 
daily newspaper, on September 18, authored by Charlotte Raven, a former 
member of the Militant Tendency, editor of the now-defunct Modern Review and 
currently a semi-celebrity and professional cynic. The piece is headlined, 
“A bully with a bloody nose is still a bully,” the bully in question being 
the US. In the first place, the September 11 tragedy was not “a bloody 
nose,” it was a catastrophe. Thousands of people were incinerated instantly 
when the airplanes hit the buildings, thousands more died when tons of 
rubble collapsed on them. Anyone who was emotionally unaffected by the 
terror and suffering experienced by tens of thousands as a result of this 
attack has no right to call himself or herself a socialist.

Raven writes: “It is perfectly possible to condemn the terrorist action and 
dislike the US just as much as you did before the WTC went down. Many will 
have woken up on Wednesday with that combination of emotions... America is 
the same country it was before September 11. If you didn’t like it then, 
there’s no reason why you should have to pretend to now.” Raven’s references 
to “the US,” full stop, is no slip of the pen. It is repeated throughout the 
article. She never once uses the phrase “the US government” or “the US 
ruling elite”, or an equivalent. Using nationality as an epithet is always 
reactionary. Confronted with the most monstrous government in history, 
Hitler’s Nazi regime, socialists never descended to referring with contempt 
to “Germany” or “the Germans.”

To present “the US” as some predatory imperialist monolith, as Raven and 
others do, can only confuse and disorient. It not only serves as a barrier 
to genuine internationalism, it overlooks the contradictory character of 
American history and society. What does it mean to “dislike the US”? What 
sort of social element speaks like this? The United States is a complex 
entity, with a complex history, elements of which are distinctly ignoble, 
elements of which are deeply noble. The US has passed through two 
revolutions—the American Revolution and the Civil War—the mass battles of 
the Depression and the struggle for Civil Rights. The contradiction between 
the democratic ideals and revolutionary principles on which the nation was 
founded and its social and political realities has always been the starting 
point of the struggle for socialism in the United States.

The US was, if one considers the relationship between theory and politics, 
the product of the great Enlightenment. It established political principles, 
embodied in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, rather 
than religion or ethnicity, as the basis of national identity. This origin 
of the nation in the struggle for abstract ideals—democracy, 
republicanism—reverberated across the globe. The American Revolution played 
no small role in inspiring the events that transformed France a decade 

Even after 200 years, the United States is still fighting through the 
political and historical implications of its own founding principles. The 
American population, polyglot and highly diverse, is obsessed with 
ideological problems, although its approach is often maddeningly pragmatic. 
As the popular response to the Bush hijacking of the 2000 election 
demonstrated, there remains a deep commitment to elementary democratic 
principles. A low level of class consciousness and the failure of masses of 
Americans to generalize from their experiences, however, provides the ruling 
elite the opportunity to play on precisely these democratic notions in order 
to blind layers of the population temporarily as to the true nature of its 
plans. For Bush and his ilk “defending freedom and democracy” is merely a 
code phrase for the right of the American elite to have its way around the 
world. To the ordinary American citizen, these words mean something quite 
different. The sinister reality of the US government’s new “war against 
terrorism,” with its grandiose aim of reorganizing an entire region of the 
world in line with American geopolitical interests, will make its way into 
popular consciousness providing the necessary work is conducted by socialist 

In many ways all the vast problems in the struggle for socialism find their 
most complex expression in America. How could that not be the case? If one 
cannot find points of departure for a higher form of social organization in 
the US, in what corner of the globe are they to be found? What’s more, the 
individual who sees no basis for socialism in America clearly has given up 
on the prospects of world socialism altogether. The Marxist has always been 
distinguished from the common or garden variety radical by his or her deep 
confidence in the revolutionary potential of the American working class. In 
this regard, the US ruling elite has a much greater insight into the true 
nature of American society than the blinkered radical. The American 
bourgeoisie inveighs night and day against socialism and communism, in a 
manner far out of proportion to the threat currently posed by the socialist 
movement in the US, because it understands or at least senses instinctively 
that in the most advanced capitalist society, all things being equal, 
socialism offers such a rational and attractive alternative.

America is, at once, the most advanced and the most backward of societies. 
Its culture attracts and repels, but always fascinates. Official society and 
many ordinary Americans deny the very existence of distinct social classes, 
and yet the country is riven by the most profound and ever-deepening social 
differentiation. These social contradictions will only be exacerbated, as 
the economic developments of this week have already shown, as the war drive 

The US has produced Franklin, Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln, as well as 
extraordinary working class and socialist leaders. Its immense 
contradictions are perhaps exemplified by the figure of Jefferson, the 
slave-owner who wrote one of the greatest and most sincere hymns to human 

Raven continues, resorting to the terminology of Postmodernist drivel: “When 
America speaks from its heart, it retreats into a language that none but its 
true-born citizens can begin to understand. At the root of this is an 
overwhelming need to control meaning. America can’t let the world speak for 
itself. It was taken unawares last Tuesday and part of the trauma of that 
event was the shock of being forced to listen to a message that it hadn’t 
had time to translate. The subsequent roar of anger was, amongst other 
things, the sound of the US struggling to regain the right to control its 
own narrative.”

If Raven is speaking of George W. Bush and other servants of American 
imperial interests, then the first sentence has no meaning. Such people 
clearly don’t speak from the heart on this or any other occasion; they are 
in the business of lying and deceiving. But pardon us for pointing out that, 
in fact, when “America,” in the form of its greatest political and cultural 
representatives, has spoken “from its heart,” millions around the world have 
listened and understood, beginning in the aftermath of July 4, 1776. The 
most advanced British workers certainly paid attention to the issuing of the 
Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. One could mention the appeals 
to the international working class on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti and 
numerous other examples. And such instances, we hazard to predict, will 
occur in the future too.

One might add that the finest products of American culture have also 
attracted and moved masses of people around the world, from Poe and Whitman, 
Melville and Hawthorne, in the 19th century, to Dreiser, Fitzgerald, Richard 
Wright and others in the 20th. Nor should one entirely forget the influence 
of American music, popular and otherwise. A few people, one imagines, have 
heard it speaking from the heart. This to say nothing of contributions with 
international implications in film, painting, sculpture, dance and 
architecture. Raven apparently counts upon her readers being so consumed by 
subjective venom and their own self-importance that they overlook obvious 
historical and cultural realities.

It has always been an essential task of socialists in the US to awaken the 
positive and generous instincts that are so deeply embedded in the American 
population. There are, after all, two Americas, the America of Bush, Clinton 
and the other scoundrels, and another America, of its working people. 
Revolutionary internationalists have continuously insisted on this. James P. 
Cannon, the leader of the American Trotskyists, devoted a speech to this 
theme in July 1948. Of the “Two Americas” he observed: “One is the America 
of the imperialists—of the little clique of capitalists, landlords, and 
militarists who are threatening and terrifying the world. This is the 
America the people of the world hate and fear. There is the other 
America—the America of the workers and farmers and the ‘little people.’ They 
constitute the great majority of the people. They do the work of the 
country. They revere its old democratic traditions—its old record of 
friendship for the people of other lands, in their struggles against Kings 
and Despots—its generous asylum once freely granted to the oppressed.”

The struggle against the policies and designs of the American government 
requires, in the first instance, the exposure of the latter’s claim that it 
is the true voice and representative of the people. Socialists are obliged 
to explain that the US ruling elite is carrying out anti-democratic and 
rapacious policies, with inevitably tragic consequences, in the pursuit of 
which it falsely invokes the name of the American people.

All this of course is a closed book to the smug middle class philistine and 
snob, satisfied to make use of words and phrases that come most easily to 
hand. Raven’s variety of anti-Americanism is no more original than it is 
insightful. It is available cheaply and in large quantities in middle class 
circles in Britain, France, Germany and, for that matter, in the United 
States. It is available, so to speak, “on tap.” Such an outlook has the 
virtue of appearing oppositional, while not committing its adherent to any 
course of political action that might cause inconvenience. It is a form of 
pseudo-socialism, the phony “anti-imperialism” of cynics and fools.

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