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All Those Running Dogs Coming Home

In recent articulations of American and Canadian pop culture there appears to be a focus on soldiers returning from Afghanistan and their struggles reintegrating with their respective imperialist nations.  A few nights ago, exhausted from child care and trying to zone out in front of the television with the five channels our aerial can receive, I encountered three shows (the names of which I will not bother to mention because I don't want this accidental television viewing to represent my tastes!) where this was either the primary or secondary theme.  The jaded and mentally scarred veteran of Afghanistan is home and, cast aside by the military machine or completely mind-fucked by his experience (for it was a he in all three cases), is presented as a sympathetic character.  Thus, the "bring the troops home" slogan––which was always more of a liberal than a properly left slogan––has in some ways begun to insinuate itself in pop culture.

Since pop-culture is most often a expression of real world events, and the dominant ideology connected to these events, the focus on returning and melancholic soldiers from Afghanistan in television dramas should not be surprising.  The Obama Administration, which has emerged victorious for a second term, is in the midst of pursuing a so-called "exit strategy" of military withdrawal from Afghanistan and thus, in order to make this strategy appear more sound than the Republican strategy of "more soldiers everywhere and all the time", it necessitates an often spontaneous ideological justification––not only for those imperialist hawks who want to bomb the shit out of the entire planet in the name of freedom, but for left-leaning liberals who, for humanitarian reasons, are horrified by their militaries' direct involvement in vicious imperialist maintenance.

Hence a narrative of the post-Afghanistan soldier is being constructed––in television dramas, in reality shows, in newspaper columns, in punditry.  We are meant to accept that the exit strategies of imperialist militaries, bringing the troops back to their nations of origin, in the case of Afghanistan is an accomplishment of humanitarian aspirations.  Moreover, we are supposed to accept that the primary reason for this humanitarianism has to do with the returning troops rather than the actual victims of this imperialist intervention and occupation.  Indeed, the slogan "bring the troops home" is a slogan that weds the ethics of anti-imperialism to the lives of the poor soldiers who were "forced" to fight these dirty wars rather than, as it should be, the lives of the people who were bombed, occupied, raped, neo-colonized––in essence, a pseudo anti-imperialism.

Thus, these pop-cultural representations of the so-called "exit strategy" disappear the actual fact of imperialist intervention and instead focus on the plight of those poor soldiers who were forced, as if they were drafted or conscripted at gun point, into an unjustifiable war.  And, by a circular logic, this war is treated as unjustifiable because of the plight of some soldiers.  The war itself vanishes the moment it is mediated through the experience of those who were involved, as part of an imperialist institution, in making it manifest; we are meant to believe that it was "bad" because some soldier who participated in the invasion and occupation had a "bad experience".  And so a character on one of the dramas I accidentally encountered can talk about how bad his life is because of his experiences, how he needs to take medication, how he couldn't really help the poor people of Afghanistan (because apparently this was really what he wanted to do) because the US military was incapable of responding to Afghani "barbarism", and etc.  Now he's back and this is a good thing, the exit strategy is moral, the troops are being brought home––the slogan is finally completed.

The running dogs are coming home.

And yet there is the matter of the "exit strategy" that, troops being brought home or not, requires our attention.  As a comrade from the Communist (Maoist) Party of Afghanistan––who visited my city several months ago––pointed out in an interview, this exit strategy is simply a neo-colonial strategy where the US-led imperialist camp can maintain its hegemony without having to bother with the cost of direct military presence.  A puppet dictatorship combined with US-trained Afghani soldiers (cheaper than US or Canadian or British soldiers) will be able to maintain imperialism in this region without forcing imperialist nations to expend time and resources keeping their own soldiers in Afghanistan.  So in this context, the existential angst of some formerly occupying soldier returning home to complain about the war is nothing compared to the fact that occupation continues by remote-control.  So we brought the troops home––so what?  Since when was the imperialism of capitalism defined by direct occupation?  Imperialism after the emergence of capitalism, as Lenin noted, was primarily about the export of capital and militarism, though often necessary to produce this export, does not have to be direct.  What is happening in Afghanistan, then, is the emergence of an articulate comprador government and the basis of semi-colonialism––something that bothers me more, as a communist, then the tragic experience of a former imperialist occupier.

The problem, however, is that the narrative of the war-ravaged soldier has contaminated the ideology of leftists at the centres of global capitalism.  For it is only in the context of imperialist nations that the slogan "bring the troops home" is ever treated as some sort of viable anti-imperialist statement: the wrongness of a given war, therefore, is gauged primarily on the damage it does to soldiers originating from imperialist nations––Vietnam was wrong because of the draft, the wars now are wrong because of the so-called "economic draft", we have to stop war because it leads to the deaths of "our citizens" or makes them damaged and inhumane.  So in this context, an exit strategy that actually allows imperialism to function in a more coherent way that, now years after an invasion and occupation, it would have functioned otherwise, can be treated as the consummation of some asinine anti-imperialist ethos.

But as leftists who live at the centres of imperialism we should not oppose imperialist interventions because of what they do to "our" soldiers, or because of the injustice of drafts.  And maybe we should stop focusing too much on an economic draft that is actually not (as some comrades recently pointed out) as significant as we want to think. [The linked report, for those who won't bother reading it, statistically asserts that "[m]embers of the [US] all-volunteer military are significantly more likely to come from high-income neighbourhoods than from low-income neighbourhoods. Only 11 percent of enlisted recruits in 2007 game from the poorest one-fifth (quintile) of neighbourhoods, while 25 percent came from the wealthiest quintile."]  Really, all of this is besides the point.  What should be the point for communists and anti-imperialists is that anyone who participates in an imperialist intervention participates in imperialism and that we should be siding primarily with the actual victims of said intervention rather than worrying about what we used to call "running dogs".

None of this is to say that veterans cannot be recruited into the ranks of a revolutionary movement, only that it is utterly stupid to treat them, rather than the oppressed masses being bombed and occupied, as our allies––this is not internationalism.  And yet I am still flabbergasted by the desire of self-proclaimed "communists" or "anti-imperialists" to argue for the proletarian nature of soldiers (as well as cops, but that is another problem) and, in making this argument, wasting my time and energy discussing tactics of "winning them over to our side."  Only jaded veterans can be won over, and only after they are made to recognize that they participated in imperialism and were lackeys to the state; to imagine that military spaces are also spaces where we can organize because "the working-class is there" is even worse than claiming we can walk into a reactionary church in the American South and recruit people who believe that "God hates the gays", that women should be bare-footed baby-harvesters, that evolution is a liberal lie, and that communism is the work of the devil.  And yet these reactionaries, though important for the promulgation of a backwards ruling class ideology, are not (in Lenin's words from State and Revolution) the "special bodies of armed men [and women]" directly invested in the maintenance of ruling class power.

The problem, however, is that a very uncritical class essentialism often promotes this confused understanding of the military's supposed proletarianism: these people came from a proletarian background and so they must be eternally proletarian and thus our allies!  Well there are also the odd capitalist success stories of "self-made millionaires" who came from humble roots––are they also our allies because they are still, due to their origins, eternally proletarian?  Class is made, not found, which is why it is a material relation; your class is based, in the last instance, on your actual social position and not on the position that your parents, or parents' parents, might have occupied.  And if someone from a proletarian background ends up in the imperialist military then we need to assess them according the material and structural fact of this military: an institution devoted primarily to the interests of the national ruling class; an institution whose members must necessarily be our enemy in the event of a revolutionary moment.  And really, as noted in the aforementioned statistical link, since the majority of people in at least the US military are not economically drafted, then maybe this entire discussion is a moot point.

Even still, this story of the returning and jaded imperialist soldier is normative and again is being pushed upon a public that either needs to accept that bringing the troops home is better than a protracted occupation or needs to believe that a supposed "anti-imperialist" victory is being achieved through the current exit strategy.


  1. 'The soldier' has always existed as a mythical entity sacralized by state and society. Even Those who have parted with all other superstitions have still not parted with this one. Marxists, who subject everything to their ruthless critique, have left 'the soldier' untouched.

    I believe that those who are engaged in armed class struggle grasp it at a fundamental level-- this is true not only for revolutionaries fighting to end capitalism-imperialism, but this is true also for the imperialist soldier fighting to preserve and expand imperialism (and the imperialist privilege that it affords them). Their connection to capitalism is a now a personal and material one, and beyond just ideological and national.

    As the demographics of the soldier has changed, so has the methods of warfare. Imperialist war has become business-like it is conducted more and more through computers and drones, and imperialist armies have a vast advantage over opposing resistance forces. It is far easier for the US soldier to abstract and dehumanize that white dot on the viewfinder than it is for a US CEO to dehumanize those who work for him. Soldier pays are rising, and it is becoming business for usual for these murderers who are increasingly more connected to war profiteers and the military industrial complex.

    Sure, they suffer psychological trauma. But so do capitalists, strained by the vagaries of fundamentally irrational system that capitalism is. Sure, we must not be reductionist and claim that all soldiers live fabulously; but neither should be liberal and give olive branches to reactionaries just because they are traumatized.

    It all comes down to this:

    As Revolutionaries, we must not support the troops; We mush support the brave men and women of the resistance who shoot at them and lay IEDs on their path. Because the latter group is a better representative of the worldwide proletariat.

    And this is where Maoist-Third Worldists are right, and (almost) everybody else is wrong. The left must have the courage to criticize imperialist soldiers, maybe even going as far enough to say FUCK THE TROOPS.

    1. The only reason this is generally confused and idealist response is posted, and not treated as spam, is because of the last two paragraphs. Except for the part of about MTWism which would exclude all the people who are waging Peoples Wars against imperialism since they are not MTWers. Only a small group of people who live at the centres of capitalism are MTWers and they aren't really fighting the troops now, are they?

  2. Isn't conducting propaganda among the military/police a necessary part of a successful revolution so that at least some part of their forces will support the revolution?

    1. The starting point of a successful revolution is gathering proletarians with an advanced consciousness first and the police and military are necessarily the enemy of any type of organization. There are points, yes, where some soldiers and police will break ranks and join a revolutionary movement, but that has only ever happened when a movement is at the point of strategic defensive. Recruiting former military and police who have regained a proletarian consciousness, though, is arguably important. Or recruiting amongst the ranks of draftees and people serving a mandatory military service (as the Bolsheviks did in Russia), but this is not the same as the professional army. Karl Leibknicht was examining this problem in *Militarism* in 1907, charting the rise of a professional army that would perform as the ruling class wanted it to perform––defend its interests.

      But otherwise why waste time conducting propaganda in spaces that are structured to crush revolutionary movements when the primary point of agitation should be to accumulate those revolutionary forces, and thus start extending a sphere of counter-hegemony, that the military and the police exist to delimit?


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