Spartacist Canada No. 144
Down With Colonial Occupation of Iraq! Canada Out of Afghanistan!
Why the Antiwar Movement Didn't Stop the War
Thousands are expected to protest in Canada, the U.S. and around the world on the weekend of March 19-20, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The war and occupation have brought untold horror to the Iraqi masses. U.S. and British imperialist forces continue to arbitrarily terrorize the population. Revelations of the systematic torture of prisoners keep emerging, including in Afghanistan where Canadian troops are helping that colonial occupation.
The entire region is more oppressive and dangerous than ever. The sham January 30 Iraq elections, held under the U.S. jackboot, look set to usher in a regime as repugnant as, but no less tied to the occupiers than, the previous American puppet Allawi. The daily oppression of the Palestinians by the brutal Israeli rulers continues. Now the nuclear-armed maniacs in Washington are threatening Iran and Syria. This sabre-rattling is part of U.S. imperialism's drive to redraw the map of the Near East in its own interests and those of its Israeli allies.
The organizers of the March 19-20 protests bill them as an opportunity for the antiwar movement to get back on its feet and display some of the vigour of its early days. It is necessary for those seeking an end to the bloody occupation of Iraq to review the history of this movement, and there's one big point you have to start with: it didn't work. Internationally, people took to the streets in 2003 in the largest protests since, at least, the Vietnam antiwar movement. Cities across Canada saw demonstrations of up to a quarter million people. These protests were an important expression of opposition to the relentless drive to war. But the stark fact is that they didn't delay the attack on Iraq for a single day.
The crucial lesson is that the capitalist system cannot be pressured or reformed to work in the interests of human needs. The relentless drive for profits and spheres of influence by the rulers of the U.S. and other big capitalist powers necessarily results in wars and neocolonial pillage. Imperialist aggression and war are not "policies" that can be ended within the framework of capitalism—the entire system must be overturned.
It is possible to strike blows against imperialist war; the question is, how? In early 2003, Scottish train drivers refused to haul munitions destined for a large NATO base. In Italy, trade unionists and antiwar activists blocked railway lines from being used to transport military convoys. The longshore union in Saint John, New Brunswick pledged to boycott military cargo destined for the Persian Gulf. Such class-struggle actions gave a small taste of the enormous potential social power of the working class. By having their hands directly on the means of production—the factories, mines, transportation and other industries that make society run—workers have the power to cut off the flow of profits and services to the capitalists by withholding their labour. It is uniquely the working class that can rip power from the grasp of the capitalists and, through international socialist revolution, establish a truly egalitarian society.
To unleash labour's power against the drive to war required a struggle against the pro-capitalist leadership of the working class and the reformist-pacifist politics of the antiwar movement. These misleaders channeled mass opposition to the war into politics acceptable to the imperialist rulers at home. The reformist left groups who built the various antiwar coalitions—the International Socialists (I.S.), Communist Party (CP) et al.—deliberately obscured the class nature of war and pushed the illusion that imperialism, especially Canadian imperialism, could be pressured to be humane.
They joined with pro-capitalist NDP and even Liberal Party politicians to campaign for "peace"—i.e., the maintenance of the deeply unjust status quo. They pushed "Canadian values," preaching that capitalist Canada is a "progressive" counterweight to the U.S. They refused to call for defense of Iraq because that would mean calling for the defeat of U.S. imperialism and its Canadian junior partner, which was covertly aiding the war in multiple ways. These nationalist, class-collaborationist coalitions were an obstacle to the fight against imperialist war. What was required was a political break with these leaderships and the advancement of a policy of class struggle opposition to imperialist war—the independent mobilization of the social power of the working class against its "own" capitalist rulers.
Revolutionary Internationalism vs. Maple Leaf Nationalism
From the start of the military build-up against Iraq, we Trotskyists insisted that this was a war of imperial plunder on the part of the U.S. and its allies, and a just war of national defense on the Iraqi side. Against the calls for "unity" of all those against the war, we explained that capitalist society is divided into classes: the working class which produces the wealth on one side, and its enemy—the capitalist class which appropriates this wealth—on the other. We sharply opposed the calls for the workers and oppressed to make common cause with members of the capitalist class or their political representatives who, for their own reasons, opposed this particular war.
Throughout, we exposed the myth of "Canada the good" and the United Nations as "peaceful" alternatives to the U.S. We intervened on demonstrations with Revolutionary Internationalist Contingents built around the slogans: For class struggle against the U.S./Canadian capitalist rulers! Defend Iraq against imperialist attack! Down with the UN starvation blockade! At campus speakouts, antiwar rallies and among the organized labour movement, we exposed the pernicious role of the NDP and its "left" tails in derailing antiwar activists into the dead end of pro-capitalist politics.
Canadian nationalism was pushed to keep the movement "safe" for the bourgeoisie. The mobilizing leaflet for a November 2002 Vancouver antiwar protest, endorsed by the I.S. and CP, sported a big red Maple Leaf. The whole strategy of the reformist left was to pressure the Liberal government to "stand up" to the U.S. "Just say 'no,' Jean!" pleaded the I.S.'s Socialist Worker, adding, "Hold Chrétien's feet to the anti-war fire." To promote capitalist Canada—the oppressor of the Québécois, Native people and immigrants—as a potential ally against a U.S. war is social chauvinism: "socialist" in words, chauvinist in deeds.
The I.S. and others painted the NDP as a "party of peace." Yet in the build-up to the first Gulf War of 1991, the NDP demanded UN sanctions against Iraq as an "alternative" to war. These sanctions ended up killing more than a million and a half Iraqis. As Gulf War II was being prepared, the NDP openly backed the disarmament of Iraq by UN "weapons inspectors." And after the war, Jack Layton called for Canadian "peacekeepers" to be sent to Iraq under UN command—an imperialist occupation under a different flag.
Many of the speakers at antiwar demos portrayed France and Germany as counterweights to the U.S. But the opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq from these smaller imperialist powers had nothing to do with concerns for "human rights" or "upholding the UN charter." Germany and France compete economically with U.S. imperialism, not least in the Muslim and Arab world, and seek to protect their own fields of exploitation.
To this day, reformists like the I.S. claim the antiwar movement in Canada was a success because it supposedly kept Canada out of the war. This is a whitewash of the criminal Chrétien/Martin gang. Canada gave military backing to the U.S. before, during and after the attack on Iraq. It already had 1,000 troops in the region, with 3,000 about to land in Afghanistan. Canadian warships were in the Arabian Sea while maritime patrol aircraft were attached to U.S. carrier groups. Canadian officers connected to the U.S. Central Command in Qatar were directly involved in planning the assault on Iraq. Canadian companies producing military goods have made millions through contracts with the U.S. military. If the Liberal government took a fraudulent stance of "opposition" to this very unpopular war, it was due to base electoral calculations. In particular, they feared that in Quebec, where antiwar protests were enormous, an open embrace of the war would fuel a new surge in pro-independence sentiment.
Splits in the Antiwar Movement
What did unity with "antiwar" capitalists, social democrats, labour fakers and preachers bring? As soon as the bombs started dropping, the antiwar "movement" mostly evaporated. The war went ahead as planned, and thousands upon thousands of protesters became demobilized and demoralized.
In reaction, a split has developed among anti-occupation activists, as a layer of left-wing youth seek to counterpose themselves to Canadian nationalism and impotent "moral witness" handwringing. Early on, several thousand Toronto activists, frustrated with begging the powers-that-be to "give peace a chance," broke away from a mainstream march and staged their own demonstration through the downtown streets. Despicably, the I.S.'s Socialist Worker (16 April 2003) printed a violence-baiting diatribe against these leftists, while the cops rounded up and arrested protesters.
A year later, the divide deepened with the formation of the June 30th Organizing Committee (J30). On the day of the fraudulent "handover" of power in Iraq, the I.S.-dominated Toronto Coalition to Stop the War (TCSW) and J30 held what became two separate protests. As a TCSW spokesman called for peace in Iraq "like in Canada," J30 called on protesters to march through the Bay Street financial district to denounce Canadian corporations profiting from the war and occupation.
Marching behind a banner calling "For class struggle against Canadian capitalism," the Trotskyist League and Spartacus Youth Club joined with the J30 protesters who sought to oppose the capitalist rulers here at home. Protesting outside Canadian corporations provides an opportunity to raise the consciousness of workers and youth on the role of Canadian imperialism. But absent from J30's leaflets and often impassioned speeches in defense of the Iraqi people, the Palestinians and immigrants, is any understanding of the necessity to mobilize the working class as the motor force for revolutionary change. As we noted, "None of the components of the direct action milieu have the perspective to construct an alternative leadership of the working class in political competition with the open reformists, as we do" ("What Way Forward for Antiwar Activists?" SC No. 142, Fall 2004).
Simply combining left-sounding rhetoric with greater militancy on the streets provides no way forward. A struggle for political clarification is vital, leading to the understanding that opposing imperialist wars means fighting to get rid of the capitalist system that breeds such wars. That requires a fight for a revolutionary program and a new leadership of the working class, forged in struggle against the existing reformist, nationalist leadership. Absent that, today's left-wing activists will be no more able to transform this exploitative imperialist order than the I.S. reformists they often despise.
People's Global Action: Direct Action Liberalism
Underscoring the very partial nature of this split, the J30 Coalition has adopted the five hallmarks of People's Global Action (PGA), an international left-wing "anti-globalization" umbrella group. The Montreal-based anarchist group CLAC has done likewise. The PGA hallmarks "reject" capitalism and imperialism, but don't even mention the working class or the need to get rid of the capitalist system. They call for "direct action and civil disobedience," but without a perspective of mobilizing the social power of the working class such protests end up as gestures of defiance without any teeth.
PGA rejects "all forms and systems of domination and discrimination" and opposes "patriarchy, racism and religious fundamentalism of all creeds." At the same time, they "embrace the full dignity of all human beings." Not us! We do not embrace the "dignity" of the bloody butchers of Iraq nor of the capitalist exploiters of the working class at home. More than 150 years ago, Karl Marx rejected the slogan, "All Men Are Brothers" in favour of the concluding words of the Communist Manifesto, "Workers of the World, Unite!"
PGA's call for "local alternatives to global capitalism" boils down to an accommodation to the continued existence of the capitalist system, leaving the ruling class and its repressive state machine intact. Without the expropriation of the bourgeoisie, small "decentralized" and "autonomous" cooperatives or collectives will inevitably be economically marginalized or destroyed, just as the handicraft workshops of early 19th century Europe gave way through the process of competition to the kinds of corporate monopolies that dominate the world today. This "small is beautiful" program is reactionary, in no way addressing society's abiding problem, which is that people don't have enough: enough houses, food, medicine, education, transportation. This poverty for the billions can only be solved by destroying the capitalist system worldwide and reorganizing society through a global planned economy.
PGA is for an "organisational philosophy based on decentralisation and autonomy." This anarchist dogma—that somehow "decentralisation and autonomy" will magically prevent political betrayal and bureaucratism—has gained renewed credence following the capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union in 1991-92. As the imperialists worldwide proclaim the "death of communism," a new generation of activists accepts this lie as good coin. Their related rejection of the need for a centralized and disciplined revolutionary vanguard party leaves workers and the oppressed fragmented and dispersed in the face of a violent, highly organized ruling class that will attempt to bloodily suppress all who get in their way.
The dead end of these ultimately liberal politics can be seen in the call for a "PGA bloc" on the March 19 Toronto antiwar demonstration. Calling to "Take down SNC Lavalin," a major Canadian military producer, PGA's leaflet has not a hint of even rhetorical "anti-capitalism." Instead it tells antiwar activists to "Contact your MP and protest Canadian taxpayer subsidies of SNC Lavalin" and "Learn whether your mutual funds invest in SNC Lavalin, and urge divestment." So PGA's call, "No to profiteering, war and occupation!" comes down to lobbying MPs and shuffling Bay Street's investment portfolios!
What Policy Toward the Iraqi "Resistance"?
In the build-up to the war, we had an exchange with a Toronto anarchist group which, while highly critical of the antiwar movement's reformism, rejected the call to defend Iraq, allegedly because this would mean supporting the Saddam Hussein regime. As we explained:
"The distinction between military defense and political support— whether of workers' organizations in the capitalists' gunsights, or of whole peoples and countries being trampled by imperialism—is crucial for advancing the interests of the proletariat and oppressed....
"[T]he crushing of neocolonial Iraq at the hands of the U.S. and its allies would strengthen the imperialists and embolden them to further rampage and bloody conquest."
— "Defend Iraq!" SC No. 136, Spring 2003
While not giving an iota of political support to the butcher and former imperialist lackey Saddam Hussein, we pointed out that a military defeat of the U.S. in Iraq would have emboldened the international working class and the Iraqi peoples.
This distinction between military defense and political support is just as relevant in dealing with the issue of the Iraqi "resistance," a subject of debate within the left today. Our starting point is the call to end the colonial occupation. Every military blow against the U.S. and British occupiers, their allies and mercenaries is a blow against imperialist aggression. But we denounce criminal terror against innocent civilians and take no side in the inter-ethnic and communal warfare among Sunnis and Shi'ites, Arabs and Kurds. This deadly communal violence is often carried out by the very same forces that are fighting the occupation armies.
In the absence of working-class struggle against the occupation in Iraq and internationally, the victory of any of the reactionary Islamic or Ba'athist forces who apparently compose today's resistance is more likely to come about through an alliance with U.S. imperialism than against it. We make it clear that a revolutionary party in Iraq would mobilize against the U.S. occupation first and foremost, but also against the reimposition of anti-woman sharia laws and sectarian, communalist attacks. Such a party would mobilize the workers movement and unemployed in strikes and demonstrations against the occupiers, the parasitic clerics and nationalist demagogues.
This perspective is far removed from that of pseudo-leftists like the I.S., who combine pandering to the NDP at home with vicarious, largely uncritical cheerleading for the Iraqi resistance. Socialist Worker (19 January) makes the breathtaking claim that, "This resistance is no different in kind from that in Algeria in the 1950s or Vietnam in the 1960s...." To equate murderous Ba'athists and Muslim fundamentalists with the Algerian national liberation fighters who defeated the French, and especially with the Vietnamese workers and peasants who drove out U.S. imperialism and smashed capitalist rule, is beyond obscene.
Fire This Time: Cheerleaders for Third World Nationalism
The refrain of hailing the Iraqi resistance is also taken up by Fire This Time (FTT) in Vancouver. In the build-up to the war, FTT gave a left cover to Stopwar.ca, the local antiwar coalition that embraced everyone from a Liberal cabinet minister to the city mayor whose cops regularly brutalize Native people on the Downtown Eastside. FTT claimed that Stopwar.ca's peace crawls "effectively influenced imperialist politics" (Fire This Time, May 2003), and championed the call to "bring the troops home"—a social-patriotic demand that covers up the murderous role of the imperialist military. At the same time, they tried to offset some of the most right-wing positions of the Stopwar.ca organizers, which included refusing to take up defense of the Palestinians at antiwar rallies. In the end, this got them expelled, leading FTT to form a competing coalition, Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO).
FTT/MAWO's calling card is solidarity with struggles against imperialism in the neocolonial world. But their refusal to politically oppose Third World nationalism and reactionary forces like Islamic fundamentalism can only disorient youth and workers motivated by hatred for imperialism and oppression. For example, FTT hails the 1979 Iranian "revolution" that brought the bloodsoaked, anti-woman ayatollahs to power. Today it cheers the Iraqi resistance without a word of criticism. This is not "solidarity," but political support to the butchers of working people, women and the oppressed within the neocolonial world.
FTT reduces its political stance everywhere to the call for "self-determination," by which they mean that the countries of the Third World should govern themselves free of imperialist subjugation. But that cannot happen without socialist revolution to sweep away not only the Third World satraps who are tied to the imperialist order, but ultimately and decisively the rulers in the imperialist centers.
Imperialism is not simply a reactionary policy of right-wing governments, but a global system rooted in the capitalist drive for profit. Capitalism is based on economic scarcity and competition to generate the highest rate of profit by exploiting wage labour. A handful of bourgeois parasites in rich countries export capital ("investments") to the colonial and semicolonial world in order to plunder raw materials and cheap labour. Ultimately, they will defend this capital with their own armies, but they prefer local rulers as the first line of defense. Thus most Third World countries are formally independent yet economically subjugated by imperialism, their rulers tied by a thousand threads to the bourgeois masters of North America, West Europe and Japan. The struggle against the national oppression of the neocolonial world is entirely tied up with the overthrow of the capitalist system and the abolition of private property.
Self-Determination—What About Quebec?
It is revealing that while misusing the call for "self-determination" in the Third World, FTT cannot bring itself to call for self-determination for Quebec, a nation directly oppressed by the Canadian capitalist rulers. This indifference to the national subjugation of Quebec is shared by much of the "anti-capitalist" left in Canada, who are blind, at best, to the impact of anti-Quebec chauvinism among the working class.
Throughout the Iraq war, the biggest antiwar demos in Canada were in Quebec. For the last century, the national oppression of the Québécois—including the Canadian rulers' denial of their democratic right to self-determination—has fueled opposition to Canada's military adventures, including both world wars. The army has repeatedly been used against social struggle in Quebec, from the murder of anti-conscription protesters in 1917 to the military occupation under the War Measures Act in 1970. Chrétien was prepared to use the army to stop secession in the event of a winning referendum in 1995.
Our understanding of the centrality of the working class is at the nexus of our differences on the national question with most of the "anti-capitalist" new left. Outright Quebec-bashing combined with the flag-waving "national unity" chauvinism pushed by the NDP and labour bureaucrats is used to tie workers to their bosses in English Canada. Intransigent opposition to such Anglo chauvinism and support to the national rights of the Québécois is crucial to winning the English Canadian working class to an understanding that its interests are counterposed to those of the Canadian rulers. This in turn will help make clear to workers in Quebec that their oppressor and class enemy is the Québécois bourgeoisie. Quebec's francophone bosses are masters at using Quebec's national oppression within Canada to impose class peace on "their" workers in the name of "national solidarity" against Anglo oppression. Independence for Quebec will remove a major obstacle to anti-capitalist class struggle in both Quebec and English Canada.
The Fight for Revolutionary Leadership
The only successful antiwar movement in history was the 1917 Russian workers revolution, which took the long-suffering masses of the former tsarist empire out of World War I. The greatly increased oppression of the world's peoples which drives today's young radicals to protest is a direct outcome of the capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. This was a huge defeat for the working class and victory for the imperialists, one that has fundamentally reshaped the globe.
We Trotskyists remained until the end on the side of the Soviet working class in opposing capitalist counterrevolution, fighting for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist betrayers. Today we call for defense of the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states in China, North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba. Without the counterweight of Soviet military might, and with the perception among the workers of the world that communism is no longer an alternative, the U.S. and other imperialist powers have run roughshod over the planet. Indeed, in the wake of the Soviet counterrevolution, the consciousness of working people worldwide has been greatly thrown back. Today it is less commonly recognized that the working class even has interests counterposed to those of the capitalist ruling class, much less that it must fight for these interests against the capitalists. This is reflected on the left in the renewed currency of anarchism and similar radical-idealist trends whose inability to point a way forward for working people and the oppressed has been painfully and amply shown by history.
Throughout the antiwar demonstrations of the past two years, we have intervened to counterpose our revolutionary program to that of the reformist organizers. At issue is which class, in this class-divided society, one looks to in order to end war, racism and poverty. The reformist organizers of the antiwar movement did everything in their power to help bourgeois and social-democratic politicians spread the lie that the capitalist system can do otherwise than breed imperialist war. The more radically-minded activists, utterly lacking a class axis and understanding, can provide no alternative. We Trotskyists take up the fight to forge Marxist parties to lead the struggles for workers rule internationally as the only road to combat the rapacious capitalist class.
A serious fight to end this violent imperialist world order demands drawing the lessons of past struggles to avoid forever being caught in a revolving door of defeats and demoralization. The Trotskyist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs are committed to bringing this understanding to a new generation of leftist radicals. Our task, as a small internationalist Marxist organization, is to fight to reestablish the understanding that the road to human freedom lies through working-class socialist revolution. Join us!