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Workers Hammer No. 193

Winter 2005-2006

British, US imperialist troops out of Iraq now!

"International Peace Conference" building illusions in a kinder, gentler imperialism

We publish below a Spartacist League leaflet that was distributed at the 10 December London “International Peace Conference”.

Amid mounting reports of imperialist savagery in Iraq, including atrocities such as the deliberate incineration of civilians in Falluja, the hideous torture of prisoners and the brutal injustice of the racist “war on terror”, the question facing anti-war activists is how to effectively oppose such imperialist slaughter. Even though the military is bogged down in Iraq and domestic support in the US is declining, Bush has just launched a “National Strategy for Victory”. Meanwhile his administration continues to threaten Iran, Syria and North Korea, and the US has formed a strategic military alliance with Japan against China. The Stop the War Coalition (StWC) led by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) boasts of having led demonstrations of millions of people who oppose the occupation of Iraq, which indeed they did. But what exactly has this “broad unity” movement achieved?

One thing it certainly did not achieve: the millions of demonstrators who listened to speeches from its platforms never heard a hint of the most elementary truth about imperialism that has been known to Marxists for a century — that opposition to imperialist war cannot be separated from the struggle for socialist revolution to overthrow capitalism, because war is intrinsic to the capitalist system.

The Spartacist League has intervened in demonstrations and other events under our own political banners, raising our revolutionary programme. As our 21 March 2003 statement condemning the assault on Iraq made clear, Marxists are not pacifists, but take a side. It said:

“We stand for the military defence of Iraq against US and British attack. Every setback for these imperialist forces abroad is a blow in defence of the interests of the working class and oppressed masses around the world. It is the job of the working people of Iraq, and throughout the Near East, to get rid of the bloody regime of Saddam Hussein and all the colonels, sheiks and dictators, including the Zionist butchers who are using the cover of this war to ratchet up their daily killing of Palestinians with the aim of forcible expulsion. It is our job here to build the revolutionary leadership that can mobilise the only force with the social power and class interest to challenge the rule of capitalist imperialism: the multiethnic working class.”

— reprinted in Workers Hammer no 184, Spring 2003

We call for immediate, unconditional withdrawal of imperialist troops from Iraq. We are not sending “delegates” to this “peace conference”, which would imply we are affiliated, for the same reason we are not affiliated to the StWC: our aims and goals of mobilising the working class for revolutionary struggle against their “own” imperialist ruling class are counterposed to building a movement based on the supposed unity of all classes against the occupation. Unlike Workers Power, for example, we consider it absurd to affiliate to this class-collaborationist body to pressurise it to adopt a more radical programme. The StWC is built on unity-above-all between MPs, capitalist parties such as the Greens; union bureaucrats, bishops, mullahs and pacifists —around a perceived common aim. That aim is to seek to convince the Blair government to adjust its foreign policy, which is seen as being too slavish to the Bush White House and therefore damaging to British imperialism’s interests abroad. And as former Labour MP Tony Benn never fails to point out, Blair’s involvement in Iraq is discrediting Britain’s “democratic” credentials at home.

A classic example of this kind of appeal to British imperialism to “see sense” can be found in a breathtaking “Dear Tony” letter on the StWC website. Addressed to “Dear Mr Blair”, it humbly beseeches the prime minister to promise that “British troops will be brought home by the end of this year”, and even fantasises that: “You can save the lives of our soldiers. You can make Britain’s streets safer. You can defend civil liberties rather than erode them.” Marxists vehemently oppose such obscene appeals, addressed to the chief representative of British imperialism whose imperialist bloodthirstiness and appetite for savaging civil liberties is second to no-one in the Bush administration. Try telling the family of Jean Charles de Menezes to appeal to Tony Blair to “make Britain’s streets safer”! (from whom?) This is backhanded support to the racist “war on terror” that brands all Muslims as potential terrorists.

This letter illustrates clearly what reformism comes down to: appealing for a kinder, gentler version of imperialist rule. Imperialism is not simply a foreign policy; it is fundamentally an economic system, based on conquest of territory for raw materials (such as oil), markets, cheap labour and spheres of influence. Particularly within the imperialist countries, parliamentary “democracy” plays a very important role in disguising the basic fact that, at home and abroad, imperialism is nothing other than the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. Rather than fostering illusions in the “democratic” credentials of British imperialism, which reformists like the SWP and the Socialist Party have done throughout their existence, Marxists seek to tear off the veil of “democracy” and expose the truth: that depredation, militarism, conquest and savage brutality do not exist somehow apart from the “democratic” charade in the Mother of Parliaments, but are all part and parcel of the “normal” workings of imperialism.

British parliamentary democracy has been used for decades to delude the working class at home while the ruling class carried out its blood-drenched rule. Today British imperialism is reduced to being the senile partner of US imperialism, but it is hardly less rapacious. In the last century British imperialism carved up the Middle East, artificially creating what is today Iraq, where in 1919-20 the Kurds were bombed from the air and Arabs were shelled; the British 1917 Balfour Declaration set the scene for carving the state of Israel out of the Palestinian nation; while the bloody partition of India (under a Labour government) ushered in a communalist slaughter on an unprecedented scale.

Every major imperialist power is equipped with massive military force. Thus it is downright shameful for self-described “socialists” to refer to British imperialist troops as “our soldiers”. In Iraq they are the iron fist of imperialist occupation; not to mention British troops in Northern Ireland — try telling the relatives of the victims of Bloody Sunday that their killers were “our soldiers”! Many working-class youth join the British Army because of lack of jobs, and the army does have a class contradiction, between the officer class and the soldier — who is regarded as expendable “cannon fodder” in a military conflict. But the purpose of the army is to protect and serve the interests of British imperialism. The army’s function abroad today is no different than that of the private armies who colonised India and Java while in the employ of the British and Dutch East India companies respectively. Together with the police, the courts and the prison system, the army is the backbone of the capitalist state. An imperialist army’s function is to prevail over its imperialist rivals in interimperialist wars; to subjugate neocolonial countries such as Iraq; to suppress domestic disorder — troops were placed on standby to break the 2002 firefighters strike; and to forcibly maintain “order”, such as in Northern Ireland where the army maintains the sectarian state through subjugation of the oppressed Catholics.

We seek to demolish the predominant myth of the post-Soviet world, that the perspective of mobilising the working class for socialist revolution — or indeed for major class struggle — is hopelessly outdated. The StWC (and for that matter the Respect coalition) is living proof that the SWP no longer offers the British working class even a hypocritical nod in the direction of socialism. Contrary to post-modernist and Blairite wishful thinking, the contradictions of capitalism are such that class struggle is inevitable and the working class is the only force with the potential to bring the capitalist system to a halt. But that requires a struggle against the existing union misleadership that is tied to British capitalism and has sold out their members’ interests rather than mount a real struggle against the bosses and the Blair government.

The government permitted the mammoth anti-war demonstrations to take over the streets, but took a very different attitude to the firefighters strike of November 2002, threatening to use the army to break the picket lines. This is because the firefighters strike had far greater potential to throw a spanner into the war preparations than the demonstrations did. The brief wildcat strike at Heathrow airport this summer in solidarity with sacked Gate Gourmet workers also showed the tremendous potential of the working class — in less than two days it paralysed the entire British Airways operation and cost the company millions. The FBU leadership called off the firefighters strike and handed the government a victory over the unions; in Heathrow the TGWU ended the wildcat strike and betrayed over 600 sacked Gate Gourmet workers. The much vaunted “unity” within the StWC means unity with anti-war union bureaucrats based on a shared programme of class collaboration. Revolutionaries seek opportunities for class struggle at home and fight for political independence of the working class from its capitalist rulers, which is an elementary condition for a class-struggle perspective.

Few of the “socialist” groups at the peace conference will bat an eyelid over StWC’s “Dear Tony” letter, or the fact that the StWC refuses to call for British troops out of Northern Ireland (which would destroy its precious “unity” in an instant). But much hooha has been generated over the SWP’s political capitulation to the Iraqi resistance. We have repeatedly said that any blows struck against the occupying armies are in the interests of working people of the world. But we give no political support to the forces currently fighting against the occupation and we vehemently condemn all acts of inter-communalist violence, attacks on women, imposition of the veil and other Islamic strictures that are integral to the social programme of many of the various forces fighting against the occupation. Many on the left (such as the Alliance for Workers Liberty), who today condemn Islamic fundamentalists and echo the government’s Islamophobia, supported these very forces during the 1980s, as did the SWP, when the US and British imperialists bankrolled and trained extreme Islamic reactionaries in Afghanistan (including Bin Laden) for a jihad against the Soviet Union. We Spartacists uniquely hailed the Soviet Red Army intervention which offered the possibility of extending the social gains of the 1917 Russian October Revolution to the peoples of Afghanistan, particularly its women. In the wake of the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union, when imperialist funding dried up, the Islamic reactionaries turned on their erstwhile paymasters, most dramatically by the criminal attack on the World Trade Center.

The October 1917 Russian Revolution was the signal event of the twentieth century. Nurtured amid the carnage of World War I, led by the Bolshevik Party under Lenin and Trotsky, that revolution ripped state power out of the hands of the landlords and capitalists and placed it in the hands of the proletariat, leaning on the peasantry. Although it later degenerated under bureaucratic Stalinist rule, the Soviet Union continued to demonstrate the power of a planned collectivised economy, providing free education, health care, affordable housing and jobs for all. We took a side and fought for unconditional military defence of the USSR against imperialism and against the restoration of capitalism, while simultaneously fighting for a working-class political revolution to oust the Stalinist bureaucrats.

In contrast to pacifists and reformists, we also take a side today for unconditional military defence of China, Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea, societies where capitalism was overthrown (and, contrary to the views of reformists, it has not been restored). We take this position despite the fact these states are ruled by bureaucratic Stalinist castes. We uphold the right of these states to develop nuclear weapons and say: Down with the counterrevolutionary US military pact with Japanese imperialism against the Chinese workers state!

The Marxist view that coalitions such as StWC are in fact an obstacle to the necessary fight against imperialism was eloquently stated in a 1936 pamphlet by James Burnham who was then a leading Trotskyist in the US. He said:

“To suppose, therefore, that revolutionists can work out a common ‘program against war’ with non-revolutionists is a fatal illusion. Any organization based upon such a program is not merely powerless to prevent war; in practice it acts to promote war, both because it serves in its own way to uphold the system that breeds war, and because it diverts the attention of its members from the real fight against war. There is only one program against war: the program for revolution — the program of the revolutionary party of the workers.”

— “War and the Workers


Workers Hammer No. 193

WH 193

Winter 2005-2006


Irish unions show their strength

Wretched deal at Irish Ferries


Imperialist "democracy" means barbarity in Iraq

For a multiethnic revolutionary workers party!


Unions must organise immigrant workers! Full wages and benefits for immigrants!

For solidarity strikes to defend crew members occupying Irish Ferries!

Down with "partnership" and all class collaboration!




Elizabeth King Robertson



Down with racist state of emergency!

Ghetto youth upheavals in France


British, US imperialist troops out of Iraq now!

"International Peace Conference" building illusions in a kinder, gentler imperialism


British imperialism and the myth of the "democratic" war against fascism

Revolutionaries and World War II

(Young Spartacus Pages)