These key documents, spanning from the formation of LSM as a group to its’ dissolution, provide a general picture of the organization’s principles, structure, and style of work. Further research on and summation of other LSM documents will allow us to see the group’s practice in more detail.
Toward an International Strategy by J. Michael Dawn (April ‘68)
This is one of the “pre-founding” documents by the LSM, and it was hard to track down because Don Barnett, LSM’s founder, wrote it for Monthly Review using a pseudonym. But other LSM materials reference this article so we can be pretty sure this is Don Barnett writing. The Monthly Review byline for the article states that “J. Michael Dawn is the pen name of a United States social scientist at present teaching in one of the outer reaches of the American Empire.”
Barnett is addressing himself to the U.S. left in the article, and the article is not polemical in tone, but it is critical.
Among Left groups in the United States there is a tendency for theory to become rigid. Instead of being guided by social practice, theory is more often used as a test of one's loyalty to "the group" and as a screen to filter through those social facts which tend to support it. Marxism is thus reduced from a scientific method of social analysis to a dogma.
There are, on the one hand, those who maintain or imply that there is little likelihood of an armed socialist revolution in the United States, that it is at best very far off, and that a socialist America will be the end-product of a long and relatively peaceful process of structural reform. On the other hand, there are those who hold that an armed socialist revolution in the United States is inevitable, that it will occur in the not-too-distant future, and that it will involve rapid and sweeping structural changes.
The point here is that these opposing views, and others like them, share a vital implicit assumption: that the correct unit of analysis is the United States. They agree, in other words, that the social unit wherein socialism will come through armed revolutionary struggle or peaceful reform is the United States and, by implication, that the decisive social forces involved in this process lie within the American nation.
This is an interesting re-interpretation of “Third Worldism” - seeing the imperialist system as one singular social unit for class analysis (which helps rebut claims made by anti-Third Worldists that Third Worldism only serves to “separate” the struggle in different parts of the world).
Imperialism has been a commonplace subject of serious discussion at least since Lenin. All socialists acknowledge its existence, tacitly recognize its importance, and make public anti-imperialist pronouncements. There are surprisingly few, however, who treat the imperialist system as the proper social unit for the class analysis of modem capitalist society. Still fewer use such analyses to fashion revolutionary strategies.
As might be expected for someone publishing in Monthly Review, the MR school had a strong influence on Barnett:
That the struggles for national liberation and socialism are very closely related has been persuasively argued by Baran and Sweezy in Monopoly Capital:
‘. . . policing the empire and fighting socialism are rapidly becoming, if they are not already, one and the same. For the threat to the empire comes from revolutionary movements which ... are sparked by a deep-seated yearning for national independence and are fueled by an increasingly urgent need for economic development, which experience is proving cannot be achieved today except on the basis of public enterprise and comprehensive planning -in short, only if their national revolutions are also socialist revolutions.'
Turning to the “labor aristocracy” question Barnett again treads lightly:
Let us now contrast the third contradiction, pitting the metropolitan working class against its domestic ruling class, with the other two. It is clear that at present the metropolitan class struggle is less acute than the conflicts between the neocolonial masses and their respective internal and external ruling classes. In fact, with the flourishing of both old and new empires since the 1880's, the proletarian movements of the various metropolitan centers have tended more toward reform politics and narrow economic interests than toward armed revolution and the seizure of state power.
Finally, as if to corroborate this view, AFL-CIO president George Meany told reporters on December 6, 1967: "Nobody likes this [Vietnam] war. ... But we're in there to protect the interests and security of the American people.... Labor's interests are closely tied to ... the Johnson administration.” […] First, it must be noted that the sequence of revolutionary phases within the empire is necessarily reversed. In the neocolonial sphere, so long as the empire can be said to exist, a subordinate nation's ruling class and state must be overthrown before the underprivileged nature of its relations with the metropolis can be destroyed and its economic independence established. In the metropolitan center, however, the successful proletarian revolution cannot but follow a certain critical stage in the development of national liberation struggles in the neocolonies.
If this analysis is correct, then it is of paramount importance for United States socialists to abandon their parochial national bias and outlook, and to begin to fashion revolutionary theory and strategy within an imperialist framework. It is the Empire, rather than the nation, which defines and determines the character of the social system in which we live, suffer or benefit, struggle or acquiesce. And, though we happen to reside in the privileged metropolis-and in fact share in its privileges-it is the whole Empire which should determine the range and nature of our revolutionary action.
The outline of LSM and it’s practice can be seen in this interesting “rural-urban” metaphor, but there are also parts that are not clearly visible in LSM practice (like the suggestions at the end of the last paragraph):
If this is so, the most important strategic question for those of us who happen to be living within the "cities" of the Empire is: How do we most effectively relate ourselves to the revolutionary struggles now occurring in the imperial "countryside"? In answering this question I would suggest that what we need is a dual "urban-rural" strategy. On the "rural" or neocolonial front this will involve United States revolutionaries, together with militants of the other metropolitan centers, in both direct and indirect participation in revolutionary anti-imperialist struggles. Those participating directly in the armed struggle in the "countryside," as technicians, combatants, etc., should be assisted by militants remaining within the "city" and responsible for such tasks as recruitment, the provision of funds and material, and propaganda. On the "urban" or metropolitan front, during the present stage of the struggle, our primary strategy should be to harass and morally isolate the ruling-class regime. A wide variety of mass organizations and both legal and illegal tactics can be employed for the purposes of increasing popular disaffection, furthering the moral isolation of the Establishment, and tying down United States troops within the metropolis.
Thus, in the "urban" spheres, increasing harassment and moral isolation of the Establishment will exacerbate its critical military manpower weakness both by forcing it to divert significant numbers of troops from the "countryside" to the "city" for urban repressive measures, and by further reducing the morale of its forces. Again, by successfully advancing an anti-imperialist ideology, and by expanding the meaning of the term "the people" to include the exploited masses of the entire Empire, subjective conditions for increasing "urban" support of "rural" liberation movements will be fostered.
In the "rural" sphere, increasing participation by metropolitan revolutionaries in national liberation struggles will accelerate the development of revolutionary material and subjective conditions among United States and Western European workers. Not only will it help advance the dismemberment process within the Empire, thus weakening the metropolitan ruling class, but it will undercut the lulling material advantages of the upper "urban" proletariat and middle class. More important, perhaps, is the fact that it will provide a material foundation for the urgently needed internationalist component of metropolitan socialist ideology.
“Almost all tend to take for granted the vast technical skills and resources at their disposal in the metropolis”:
The metropolitan Left all too frequently underestimates its strength and potential contribution to the international socialist revolution. Many are still under the sway of parochial, internally oriented ideologies. Others are overwhelmed by the relative numerical inferiority of metropolitan Left forces. And almost all tend to take for granted the vast technical skills and resources at their disposal in the metropolis. Our contention here is that despite our current numerical weakness, there are literally thousands of young militants in the capitalist centers who would be willing to serve in the anti-imperialist struggles taking place in the imperial "countryside"; that there are many more who would be willing to support such actions while remaining "at home"; that in addition to manpower, the technical skills and resources we have to offer could be put to good use by most liberation movements; and finally that we can, and of course should, make a significant contribution to the struggle against imperialism and the eventual victory of the international socialist revolution.
The struggle for socialism "in the United States" is and must be international in scope. The Dienbienphus of the international revolution are as likely to occur in Mexico, Indonesia, or the Congo, as in the United States itself. In fact, as the revolution spreads to increasing numbers of colonies and neocolonies within the United States-dominated international capitalist system; the whole notion and reality of exclusive "national" boundaries may begin to fade into relative insignificance. It is surely time for the United States Left to realize-and act accordingly- that there simply will not be an isolated "American" revolution. Our revolution will of necessity be international. Our strategy and tactics must be geared to this reality.
Constitution (May ‘70)
This is a pretty short document and is mostly what could be expected from a small radical group, but has a couple things we can pull out.
Aims and objectives are quite simple:
The major objective of the LSM is to provide concrete and meaningful support to genuine national liberation movements and struggles within the U.S.- dominated imperialist system. Such support is to consist primarily of essential supplies, research and publicity, and technical aid. […] We believe that far too little practical and fraternal assistance has been given in support of national liberation movements by North Americans who are both capable and, in theory, desirous of providing such vitally needed support. 'l'he Liberation Support Movement was established in order to help resolve this glaring contradiction between theory and practice, between the potentiality and actuality of our contribution to the anti-imperialist struggle.
The LSM branch / affiliation structure, very simple but seemed effective for them:
Liberation Support Movement Branches are to be organized throughout North America in order to implement the above stated aims and objectives. Each such branch will (1) contain no fewer than six members, (2) agree to abide by the Constitution and act in accordance with the policies of the LSM, (3) pay yearly dues of $50.00 to the LSH Executive Committee - the first year's being payable within three months of the branch's formal recognition by the Executive Committee, (4) elect a chairman or other responsible person to represent it on the Steering Committee, (5) submit a Branch Constitution, prospectus of support activities and regular monthly progress reports to the LSM Executive Committee, (6) engage in regular critical evaluation of its work, and (7) make recommendations and critical suggestions regarding LSM policy and programs through its chairman to the Executive and Steering Committees.
This document goes on to describe executive and steering committee functions, etc etc.
Principles of Liberation Support Movement’s Anti-Imperialist Work (April ‘72)
A more detailed look at LSM political principles and strategic outlook - this is in someways a more “hardened” Third Worldist outlook than that of Barnett in the 68’ Monthly Review article.
“The following Statement of Principles was presented by LSM Information Center Director, Don Barnett at the 1972 Easter Conference of European support groups together with African liberation movement representatives , held in Lund, Sweden, April 1- 3.”
In what we might call the "proletarian nations" or countryside of the imperialist system, there exist super-exploited and oppressed peoples and revolutionary classes - the latter fact being attested to by some sixty-five revolutions, at various stages of development, currently underway along the several fronts of anti-imperialist armed struggle in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The "rich nations", the industrialized capitalist countries of Europe, North America and Asia (Japan), contain at present no revolutionary classes. Though individual members of particular classes (who must be considered as “class eccentrics"), most commonly petty bourgeois intellectuals, endeavour and in some cases succeed in defecting from their class and throwing in their lot with revolutionary peasants and workers in the countryside, there exist no classes or significant strata (defined in terms of their role in the productive process) whose material interests would at this time be directly and effectively served by revolutionary armed struggle against the bourgeois state apparatus. We believe that a revolutionary ideology can only seize the imagination and galvanize the practice of a class whose objective and historically produced material interests are thereby served. Material conditions set definite limits on the range and qualitative nature of ideologies toward which any particular class will be receptive and according to which its praxis can be organized and directed.
In fact, from the emergence of a "bourgeois proletariat" noted by Engels in the England of 1858, to the "social chauvinists"of the "bourgeois labor movement" inveighed against by Lenin in the Europe of 1916 (which "represent a stratum, or groups, or sections of the working class which objectively have been bribed by the bourgeoisie - by better wages, positions of honour, etc. -and which help their bourgeoisie to plunder and oppress small and weak peoples and to fight for the division of the capitalist spoils"), we have arrived at a condition within the metropolitan centers described by Oscar Lange and later by Paul Baran (1957) as a form of "people's imperialism", wherein there has evolved "a far-reaching harmony between the interests of monopolistic business on the one side and those of the underlying (metropolitan) population on the other".
LSM on “progressive strata” in the Global North:
To say this, however, is not to say that there exist at present no potentially progressive strata or elements in the metropolitan centers . By "progressive" in this context we refer to those sectors of the metropolitan population which, in serving and satisfying some of their non-revolutionary interests and acquired needs, can be and sometimes are moved to act in ways which objectively advance the practice and interests of revolutionary classes in motion within imperialist society. These sectors can and should be mobilized to contribute material and propagandistic support for genuine liberation movements and revolutionary classes in the countryside. Again, we believe that certain actions - legal and illegal, peaceful and violent - can be carried out in the metropolitan centers which weaken (however slightly in the present stage) the power of the corporate ruling class and its military apparatus. Particular local tactics must, of course, be worked out by revolutionary groups in the light of concrete conditions prevailing in each metropolitan area.
Given the above position, LSM's principles of anti-imperialist work can be summarized as follows: (1) To accelerate, through various concrete forms of material support, political education and ideological struggle, that revolutionary process whereby vanguard subjugated classes and peoples in the countryside are fighting their way out of the imperialist system and contributing significantly to the emergence of post-capitalist socialist internationalism;
(2) To unceasingly strive to achieve an international socialist content and direction to the various struggles emerging within the metropolitan centers as contradictions there sharpen due to revolutionary successes in the countryside and the resulting decline in imperialist super-profits and ruling-class capacity to sustain "peoples imperialism";
(3) To work toward the formation of revolutionary internationalist structures and forms of effective collaboration across national lines, and at the same time fight against those tendencies which, if not checked, might well lead to a post-capitalist world of unevenly developed, internally stratified and competitive (if not warring) "socialist" countries.
Appendix: Resume of Liberation Support Movement Activities (January ‘71 - April ‘72)
This is attached to the statement of political principles and offers a good overview of their practice in these early years (they got a lot done for a small group!).
Between January and July, 1971, three shipments (6 tons) of clothing, technical books, uniforms and $10,000 worth of medicines and medical supplies were sent to the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA). These goods were shipped to Dar es Salaam, then trucked by MPLA militants first to Lusaka, Zambia and then to the border areas for transport into liberated Angola by MPLA carriers. More recently, in March 1972, two additional shipments of clothing, tents and medicines left Vancouver and San Francisco for MPLA .
In February of last year we completed the printing of a first-aid manual and a medical text, in Portuguese, for the MPLA Medical Aid Services (SAM) to be used in Angola. These were air freighted to Lusaka for use in SAM courses beginning March 1971. Major financial contributors to this project, in addition to LSM, were the Angola Medical Committee (Holland), the United Church of Canada and the Fraser Group of Vancouver. These texts were also offered to the Portuguese-speaking Mozambican, Guinean and Brazilian Liberation forces. The African Party for the Independence of Guine and Cape Verde (PAIGC) requested a number of copies of these medical books, which were sent in January 1972 along with fifty LSM 1972 Liberation Calendars.
In the Spring of 1971, LSM expanded its practice to include agitational programs to expose the role of NATO countries in assisting Portugal's colonial wars. We also attacked the involvement of multinational corporations in colonies and neocolonies where national liberation struggles are taking place. Corporate targets included DOW Chemical (U.S.) a producer of chemical defoliants used in Angola and Indochina; ALCAN (Canada), a participant in Cabora Bassa dam project in Mozambique;* and Gulf Oil (U.S.), with large operations in Angola, Venezuela and many other oppressed nations. (Gulf threatened to take legal action against LSM for slander, but failed to follow through with its threats) .
in June 1971 began the reprinting for North American distribution of Angola In Arms, Mozambique Revolution and PAIGC Actualites, the official organs of MPLA, FRELIMO and PAIGC. The latter is translated from the French and published quarterly.
This conference would be interesting to research more, given the time period it must have counted with the involvement of some New Communist Movement groups as well:
In August 1971 we attended a conference of anti-imperialist groups and helped to found the North American Anti-imperialist Coalition (NAAIC).
LSM cadre development:
In January 1972 we began cadre-training classes within the Information Center in Vancouver. Eight members are gaining language and technical skills for work in the "countryside" with the aim of gathering up-to-date photographs, interviews and other materials dealing with the liberation struggles, and also of becoming more effective in mobilizing broader support within the "metropole".
At least in the early stages, international organization was on the agenda too:
Further concrete collaborative relationships are being worked out with the Communist Working Circle (KAF/KUF) in Denmark. We hope, through such collaboration, to build a genuinely international organization in the not too distant future.
Recently the Information Center put together an audio-visual program on revolution in the Portuguese colonies, consisting of two films, two I.C. tape-slide presentations, photos, maps, literature and movement publications. Two LSM members toured the US West Coast with the program for two weeks in March.
Liberation Support Movement - Our Unity and Practice (January ‘78)
In many ways a more fleshed out version of their statement of principles, and also a document written after half a decade more practice that describes methods of organization in more detail.
“In October 1977, LSM held its Second Congress. This Congress drafted documents on our history, theory, strategy and practice, and structure. We decided to publish the entire platform of unity and summaries of the other documents to briefly answer the question: What is Liberation Support Movement? We hope this pamphlet will answer many of your questions and spark new ones which will help us advance our work.”
Like many others, the small group of people who formed Liberation Support Movement (LSM) nearly ten years ago were deeply influenced by the political riptide that swept through the United States at the time. But unlike many of the organizations that the new movement spawned, LSM still exists with much of its original ideas and strategy intact.
Most of LSM's early members were young people politicized in the anti-war movement. It was the struggle of the Vietnamese that opened our eyes to what capitalism really means to that majority of "free world" population who live outside Europe and North America. And gradually it became clear to us that revolutionary national liberation struggles were in fact the major force in the fight against this system. Their accomplishments in Indo-China, Mozambique, and Guinea-Bissau indicated that new, humane societies were being built behind the lines of war; their capacity to resist the accumulated might of American military machinery struck like a thunderbolt at everything we rejected in our own culture.
While the United States Government and giant corporations actively fight the liberation movements, our task must be to actively support them - by information, by concrete assistance, by every means open to us. The liberation of Indo-China and Southern Africa have torn big chunks off the imperialist system and are an important stepping stone for the struggle against capitalism in other parts of the world.
In a period when the class struggle within North America finds itself at a low ebb and socialism here has no mass appeal, this kind of internationalist practice is particularly important.
LSM's early information work was literally a pioneering effort. When three of our members returned from the MPLA-controlled regions of Angola in 1968 - the first North Americans to visit them - it took much explaining to establish the importance of the struggle which was to become a turning point in African history seven years later. We started by writing articles for the Guardian and Ramparts and by organizing the US-Canada tour of an MPLA commander.
In 1970 the LSM Information Center was born: a small used offset press in a Seattle basement. Under the leadership of the late Don Barnett we slowly improved our skills, learning all aspects of the work from research through design and printing to distributing our publications. With films and slides we criss-crossed the United States and Canada to help raise awareness of national liberation struggles and their importance to us. Through such work, LSM has become a reliable resource for the anti-imperialist movement.
All these projects have given hundreds of political organizations, churches, and individuals the opportunity to concretely support peoples struggling for their freedom by channeling some of the wealth accumulated by imperialism into the struggle against that system itself.
LIBERATION SUPPORT MOVEMENT (LSM) is an independent anti-imperialist organization. We use scientific socialism - the method of analysis pioneered by Marx and Engels - to understand the world around us. Our practice centers on informational and material support for revolutionary liberation movements and governments in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
THE UNITED STATES is today by far the strongest of the states of the center: economically, militarily and politically. The other imperialist states are in part dominated by the United States but also participate in the plunder of the periphery. Rivalry between various factions of the international bourgeoisie still produces conflicts which weaken the overall strength of this class. On the whole, however, their unity is now the dominant feature.
Similar to M-KA’s eventual position on the Sino-Soviet split, one of “critical non-alignment”, which looks very good in hindsight. The second paragraph is also similarly levelheaded:
We support both the USSR and China as progressive social formations compared to capitalism but recognize that each also has weaknesses. Our position regarding the Sino-Soviet differences is one of critical non-alignment. We are independent but not neutral; we believe that each country has made significant contributions in improving the lives of its population and in advancing socialism internationally. Our sketchy understanding of the internal dynamics of each country and of socialist development in general presently limits our ability to analyze their differences.
Other socialist and progressive states must also be evaluated on the basis of their internal achievements and their contributions to the liberation of other peoples around the world. Advances in each of these areas contribute to the weakening of imperialism. While we are not blind to shortcomings and mistakes on the part of socialist countries, it is important also to understand the problems inherent in building socialism. Criticism of progressive and socialist states must never obscure imperialism as the principal enemy of the world's people.
In this document LSM addresses contradictions within the imperial core in a more detailed way, but these are still somewhat peripheral to their strategy:
The struggles of national minorities and oppressed nationalities against discrimination and for democratic rights and self-determination will increasingly come to test the strength of monopoly capitalism. These struggles will be crucial in the development of a revolutionary force on our continent. The trend which looks at only the racial or national aspect of these struggles, however, obscures the class aspect and may open the door to opportunism and class collaboration. It therefore becomes important to distinguish between the struggles which advance the cause of the whole national group or minority and those which serve only a privileged elite.
In the work force, women are generally channeled into the lower echelons, doing much of the menial and stultifying work. While all women are subject to sexist discrimination, conditions vary a great deal according to class, race, and nationality, with "Third World" women generally occupying the least wanted positions. The progressive elements of the North American women's movement thus link the question of sexism to capitalism and national oppression. The liberation of women is an integral aspect of any socialist revolution.
LSM seems to have maintained its friendliness towards other parts of the New Left throughout it’s existence:
WE SUPPORT THE DEVELOPMENT OF A NON-SECTARIAN, NON-DOGMATIC LEFT within North America. The lack of a mass base currently leaves the progressive movement numerically small and fragmented. While the realization of a strong socialist movement will require a change in objective conditions, we believe that efforts to increase mutual effectiveness and unity through practical collaboration and theoretical exchange are necessary.
Program of Work
The Congress decided that we continue to focus our practice on Southern Africa. Our past experience and current relations with revolutionary forces in Namibia and Angola prepare us to work most effectively in this region. […] The Gulf/Red Sea area is rapidly becoming the arena for a growing confrontation between imperialism and the forces of national liberation and socialism. We chose to make this area a secondary focus of our practice, preparing for possible greater efforts later.
Basic Structure and Methods of Work
Democratic centralism rests on the responsibility of all members to help set LSM's political direction through the appropriate channels. We expect each member to contribute to regular evaluation of our collective practice, comportment, and political development and to struggle against values which impede the achievement of our objectives. LSM members are always accountable for the responsibilities they have taken on. Criticism and self-criticism regarding the performance of our tasks are vital tools of democratic centralism.
Respect for leadership and its directives is basic to democratic centralism. Leaders are elected for their political and practical understanding and experience. While leaders are responsible to make decisions based on discussion and consultation, all of us must strive to be innovative in our particular areas of work. Members must be self-motivated as well as concerned about the progress of their comrades. Our Annual Meeting to review questions of theory, strategy, and structure; plan our practice; and elect leadership is LSM's supreme body. To underline their commitment, members are required to submit written projections for their work over a one-year period. Between Annual Meetings our Chairperson, in consultation with the Steering Committee, leads the work of the organization. Other than the Chairperson, the Steering Committee consists of the Information Center Manager, and the leaders of our work units - Writing/Research, Production, and Distribution/Outreach.
We expect our members to agree with and be able to articulate LSM's theoretical and strategic views. People who want to participate in our work and get to know our organization better, can join as trial members or sympathizers.
Dissolution Statement (~July 1982)
LSM’s brief dissolution statement is somewhat vague but points towards the general wane of the radical left as the 70s came to an end:
As the size and effectiveness of many parts of the North American Left have diminished in the last few years, LSM has also contracted. We have found it increasingly difficult to sustain our organization and work, and see the need for new tactics and organizational forms. Our decision to dissolve was not based on ideological differences. Former LSM members will continue some forms of collaboration.
All of us plan to move on to other forms of work and organizations and to continue in the struggle for socialism.
By The Department of Northern Affairs