Revolutionary Internationalists on the March

ICL in Worldwide Protests

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 798, 28 February 2003.

From New York City to Johannesburg to London, the International Communist League stood out in the gigantic protests against war on Iraq on the weekend of February 15-16, mobilizing contingents and sales teams to intervene with a program of proletarian revolutionary internationalism. Unlike pacifists, we take a side, fighting for the defense of Iraq against imperialist attack without giving an iota of political support to the regime of Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Iraqi leftists, workers and Kurds. As we underlined in the ICL statement “Down With the UN Starvation Blockade! Defend Iraq Against U.S. and Allied Imperialist Attack!” (reprinted in WV No. 790, 1 November 2002), which was translated into eight languages and distributed at the protests:

“The colossal military advantage of the United States against neocolonial Iraq—a country which has already been bled white through 12 years of UN sanctions which have killed more than 1.5 million civilians—underscores the importance of class struggle in the imperialist centers as the chief means to give content to the call to defend Iraq. Every strike, every labor mobilization against war plans, every mass protest against attacks on workers and minorities, every struggle against domestic repression and against attacks on civil liberties represents a dent in the imperialist war drive. To put an end to war once and for all, the capitalist system that breeds war must be swept away through a series of revolutions and the establishment of a rational, planned, egalitarian socialist economy on a world scale.”

Our intervention sharply distinguished us from an entire spectrum of self-styled “socialists” both in the U.S.—where the protest organizers seek to channel opposition to the war into support for “antiwar” Democrats—and throughout Europe, where the mass antiwar protests against “Bush’s war” are being channeled in the national-chauvinist direction of getting one’s “own” rulers to stand up to American imperialism. This was particularly the case in France, where most of the left rallied behind the neo-Gaullist regime of Jacques Chirac, hailing its obstruction of the U.S. in the UN Security Council. Having assisted in getting Chirac elected, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) issued a statement calling on “the French authorities and parliament to use all means in their power to stop a war against Iraq.” In a leaflet mobilizing for a revolutionary internationalist contingent in the Paris demonstration, our comrades of the Ligue Trotskyste de France exposed this revolting fraud:

“The truth is that ‘the French authorities’ have the blood of a million Algerians on their hands as well as tens of thousands of Vietnamese and other colonial victims. Now, with the Marcoussis agreements which confirm a ‘regime change’ in the Ivory Coast at the gunpoint of thousands of French soldiers and with the support of the UN, the French are putting together all of the elements for a bloodbath, as they did in Rwanda in 1994.”

Cheering for French imperialism was a theme of the demonstrations throughout Europe, echoed also in the U.S. protests. Disgustingly, Ahmed Ben Bella, who was president of Algeria following its independence from France, proclaimed in addressing the London demonstration: “Vive la France!” Ben Bella should try chanting this to the Algerian population in the Paris suburbs, which faces deadly racist terror at the hands of the French state and Le Pen’s fascist National Front. That Le Pen issued a call on his stormtroopers to join in the Paris antiwar march is a measure of the deadly chauvinism behind appeals to the French bourgeoisie to “stop” the war against Iraq.

In France and elsewhere, we championed the defense of immigrants and their families who have been the first targets of the “war on terror,” the opening shot worldwide for the imperialist rulers in augmenting their machinery of state repression, which is aimed straight at the heart of the working class. In Athens, where the demonstration was tear-gassed by police, our supporters combatted the chauvinism of those leftists, like the Greek Communist Party, who declare that the European Union (EU), currently headed by Greece, should have the deciding vote on war against Iraq. As an expression of proletarian internationalism, we distributed the ICL statement in Greek and Turkish.

The Turkish statement was also distributed by our comrades at the mass protests in London and Berlin. Turkish workers are a vital and combative component of the proletariat in Germany. In Berlin, a Kurdish contingent gave our comrade their bullhorn to lead chants when they heard our slogans opposing the EU ban on the Kurdish nationalist PKK, which has long been brutally repressed by the Turkish state. In France, where Arab workers are a strategic and militant part of the proletariat and a critical link to the working and oppressed masses in North Africa and the Near East, our Paris contingent had signs in Arabic opposing the racist state terror of the government’s “Vigipirate” campaign and calling for the defense of the Palestinians against Zionist terror.

Our contingents and interventions also drew a sharp class line internationally with our forthright calls for the unconditional military defense of the North Korean deformed workers state, including its right to nuclear weapons. This too cut against the pacifism and class collaborationism of the protest organizers. Speaker after speaker railed against the nuclear cowboys in the White House. But the leftists who now head various “antiwar” coalitions made their own contribution to the emergence of U.S. imperialism as the world’s unrivaled military power through their support to the forces of capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the former Soviet Union and the East European deformed workers states. Although bureaucratically degenerated and undermined by Stalinist misrule, the Soviet Union possessed military might that held the ambitions of U.S. imperialism in check. Now the American rulers see nothing standing in the way of their riding roughshod over the entire planet.

We fought until the bitter end for the unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union, throwing every resource at our disposal into the struggle to stop capitalist counterrevolution. Our purpose was to reimplant the revolutionary internationalist program of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party through proletarian political revolution against the treacherous Stalinist bureaucracy. We continue that fight today in defense of China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam against imperialist attack and internal counterrevolution. In contrast, those leftists who stood on the side of imperialism in its drive to destroy the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe now adopt an “antiwar” posture that is little more than window-dressing for the national interests of their own capitalist ruling classes.

Anti-Imperialism Abroad Means Class Struggle at Home!

From San Francisco to London and Paris, the banners of our revolutionary internationalist contingents called for mobilizing the working class in struggle against their imperialist rulers at home. Protesting the deployment of the Irish Army in Shannon Airport to protect U.S. warplanes from antiwar protesters, a 13 February leaflet by the Spartacist Group Ireland declared: “What would be effective is strike action by airport workers and the rest of the Irish workers movement against the use of Shannon Airport for the transport of war matériel and troops.”

Such action had already been taken by 15 Scottish railway drivers who refused to transport munitions to a NATO weapons depot. More recently in Italy, transport unions, together with antiwar activists, blocked the railway line being used to transport military equipment to Camp Darby (see article, page 1). In Australia, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has announced that building workers in Sydney will walk off the job immediately upon the outbreak of war. Leaders of five major unions in Britain have also warned of possible industrial action when war breaks out.

But to mount a genuine class-struggle opposition to this imperialist war requires a program of uncompromising proletarian independence from one’s “own” capitalist rulers. And such is decidedly not the policy of even those trade-union leaders who are now calling for labor action. Rather, their invocations of proletarian struggle are aimed simply at effecting a parliamentary “regime change” in their own countries, keeping the working class chained to the rule of the capitalist exploiters in its social-democratic face.

This is manifest in the case of Italy’s Rifondazione Comunista (RC), which talks of a general strike against the war while making clear in a statement issued after the February 15 protests that RC’s real purpose is to again play a role in a “left” parliamentary coalition government, as it did in the mid ’90s. RC declares: “Let the arguments for peace and democracy win in parliament as they have already won in the country at large. Take the responsibility to represent the will of the majority of Italian citizens. Restore a positive role and social dignity to our country.”

Striking an orthodox posture, an article in Proposta (January 2003), newspaper of the centrist outfit headed by Franco Grisolia, declares that the task of the working class “is to defend Iraq against the imperialist slaughter” and that “the task of the communists was and is to counterpose to imperialist war class war and a revolutionary perspective—the only way to put an end to all war, as it is the only way to stop the social system, capitalism, which breeds war.” Left unsaid anywhere in the article is the need for the instrumentality to carry out such a perspective, a revolutionary party. This is hardly surprising considering that Proposta is, and has long been, firmly ensconced as the loyal opposition in RC. As Lenin wrote in Socialism and War in the crucible of World War I: “Unity with the opportunists actually means subordinating the working class to their ‘own’ national means splitting the revolutionary proletariat of all countries.”

Similarly in Britain, the reformist and centrist left provides cover for the social- chauvinism and parliamentarism of the trade-union tops and Labourite social democrats. The outpouring of up to two million people in London on February 15 is a stunning measure of the growing hatred for “New Labour” prime minister Tony Blair, more popularly known as “Bush’s poodle” for his loyal service to U.S. imperialism. Left-talking trade-union leaders, dubbed the “awkward squad,” who are behind the calls for labor action were prominent speakers from the platform. But this massive mobilization is now being seized upon to channel growing opposition to the Labour Party into...the Labour Party!

In the aftermath of the February 15 demonstration, Labour Against the War, the creature of “left” Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway, initiated a mass campaign urging unionists, antiwar activists and others to rejoin the Labour Party and “return a Labour government that uses diplomacy and development rather than bombs in the search for conflict resolution.” Mick Rix, head of the ASLEF rail workers union, got thunderous applause from the crowd on February 15 when he invoked the action taken by members of his union in refusing to transport armaments in Scotland. But like Corbyn, Rix urges “all trade unionists to join the Labour Party and fight for policies that put peace and our public services first.”

These Labour “lefts” all hark back to “real Labour.” Just what are they referring to? The Labour Party which joined in a coalition with Winston Churchill’s Tories to pursue the aims of British imperialism during World War II, including the relentless subjugation of colonial India? The post-World War II government of Clement Atlee, which marshaled British troops and bombers for the slaughter of over three million Koreans during the Korean War? The government of Harold Wilson, which dispatched British troops to Northern Ireland in 1969? The government of James Callaghan, which imposed the wage-slashing Social Contract on the combative British unions in the late 1970s and enforced such racist immigration policies as virginity tests for Asian women arriving in Britain?

The Labour Party has always served the interests of British imperialism against the working class at home and the working people and oppressed abroad. The present massive discontent in the ranks of the unions with the Blair government provides a real opening toward breaking the proletarian ranks of the Labour Party away from its pro-capitalist leaders (not just Blair but also the so-called Labour “lefts”), a strategic task in forging a proletarian revolutionary party in Britain.

Within days of the antiwar protests, the reformist and centrist left went into overdrive in a campaign to “Drive Blair Out!” as the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) declared in a Socialist Worker (22 February) banner headline. Providing one of the more chemically pure statements of what’s behind the bureaucrats’ call for “labor action,” an article titled: “We Can Get Regime Change in Britain” says, “Now we have to cause such turmoil that Blair is forced from office.” In effect, this is a call to replace Blair with his chancellor of the exchequer (treasury secretary), Gordon Brown, his chief rival in the Cabinet.

The right centrists of Workers Power give a more militant gloss to the idea of “regime change.” This was spelled out in an article titled “Break with Blair—We Need a New Workers’ Party”: “The question of breaking from Labour—over both the war on Iraq and the war on the unions—is now concretely posed” (Workers Power, December 2002). They even allow that “it needs to be a revolutionary party.” But falling back on the excuse that “many workers don’t yet agree with the need for revolution,” they argue that “in the best case scenario” a new workers party needs to be built by the very left-talking bureaucrats and Labour MPs who are now campaigning to “reclaim” the Labour Party!

As our comrades of the Spartacist League/Britain wrote in the front-page article “Fight British Imperialism Through Class Struggle at Home!” in the current Workers Hammer (Winter 2002-2003), many hundreds of which were sold at the protests in London and Glasgow:

“Today we fight to break the ideological chains that bind the working people, minorities and radicalized youth to the Old Labour programme of pressuring decaying British imperialism. Proletarian revolutionary opposition to war, in a conscious way, requires a split from the opportunist currents in the workers movement. The central task remains the construction of a multiethnic revolutionary workers party modelled on the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky that led the October Revolution in Russia.”

For Proletarian Revolutionary Internationalism!

The call for the February 15 demonstrations emerged from the European Social Forum in Italy last fall. Preceding that event, the bulk of European fake socialists—RC, the LCR, the SWP and Workers Power—co-signed a declaration appealing to the European bourgeois rulers to oppose American imperialism. It read:

“Those who show solidarity with the people of Iraq have no hearing in the White House. But we do have the chance to influence European governments—many of whom have opposed the war. We call on all the European heads of state to publicly stand against this war, whether it has UN backing or not, and to demand that George Bush abandon his war plans.”

Far from advancing a struggle for “peace,” these putative leftists promote the resurgent nationalism and chauvinism in Europe that paves the way for a future interimperialist war.

In Germany, the organizers of the Berlin protest openly demanded that the government of Social Democratic (SPD) chancellor Gerhard Schröder and Green foreign minister Joschka Fischer “use all political means to oppose this war.” It certainly is a topsy-turvy world when the Fourth Reich of German imperialism is being portrayed as a major force for “peace.” As our comrades of the Spartakist Workers Party (SpAD) wrote in the mobilizing leaflet for their contingent: “The German bourgeoisie is attempting to merge the opposition to war in the population—a result of Germany losing two imperialist world wars and an expression of mistrust in the SPD/Green government—with resurgent German nationalism reflecting the ambitions of the German capitalist rulers to compete with their U.S. and Japanese imperialist rivals over carving up the world’s natural resources and to redivide their spheres of influence.”

In his speech to the Berlin protest, Rolf Becker, an activist from the German public sector union in Hamburg, took the leaders of the DGB trade-union federation to task: “We must remind the DGB leadership that they unconditionally said yes to war against Yugoslavia from the first day on.... We ask the DGB leadership: Is the no today only a no as long as the government says no?” The SPD/Green government aided in the 1999 bombing of Serbia and deployed the Bundeswehr in the Balkans—the first significant German military force to be sent abroad since the Nazi era—and also sent troops as part of the imperialist occupation forces in Afghanistan. As the SpAD leaflet declared: “Schröder and Fischer are Balkan butchers! Bundeswehr out of the Balkans, Afghanistan and the Near East! Not a man, not a cent to this imperialist army!”

The left groups who now join the pacifist chorus of “give peace a chance” were singing a different tune during the U.S.-led NATO war against Serbia in 1999. Then it was “give war a chance,” as they appealed to their imperialist rulers to bring “human rights” and “democracy” to the Balkans. The LCR in France and leading British SWP member Alex Callinicos signed a statement openly calling for imperialist military intervention in Kosovo. They merely objected to U.S. imperialism leading the charge and instead called for this to be carried out under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe or the United Nations. For its part, Workers Power and its League for a Revolutionary Communist International supported the Kosovo Albanian separatists who were then pawns of U.S. imperialism. Workers Power even co-sponsored a meeting with pro-NATO speakers from Bosnia and Kosovo and participated in a “Workers Aid to Kosovo” demonstration in London which was shot through with NATO flags and placards screaming, “NATO Just Do It.”

In Australia, the Laborite left and trade-union bureaucrats campaigned for the intervention of Australian imperialist troops in East Timor in 1999. At the February 15 protest in Sydney, the Spartacist League/Australia, which opposed that intervention from the outset, carried a banner declaring: “Australian Military Get Out of the Persian Gulf, East Timor! Hands Off Indonesia! Defend Iraq Against US/UN/Australian Imperialist Attack!” In Britain, we prominently featured the call for British troops out of Northern Ireland, while the protest organizers prominently featured former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam—who deployed the British Army to occupy a Catholic area of Portadown in 1997—as a platform speaker. In Canada, our comrades raised the demand “Independence for Quebec!” and fought against the English-Canadian chauvinism of the NDP social democrats.

It is important that millions of people protested the war against Iraq. In New York City, despite a court order banning protesters from marching and with the city turned into a virtual police occupation zone under the Bush administration’s “terrorism” alert, hundreds of thousands defiantly came out to show their opposition. In San Francisco, the SL/U.S., the Spartacus Youth Clubs and the Labor Black League for Social Defense organized the Revolutionary Internationalist Contingent under the slogans: “For class struggle against U.S. capitalist rulers! Defend Iraq against imperialist attack! Down with the UN starvation blockade!”

Our 100-strong contingent was joined by a number of youth who were attracted by our signs and chants pointing to the need to break with the Democrats, the other capitalist party of war and racism, and for a revolutionary struggle against the capitalist system. The contingent stopped as we reached the entrance to the rally site, where our bright red flags with the internationalist symbol of hammer and four could be seen and our chants heard by all who passed by. This embarrassed the demonstration organizers in ANSWER, the vehicle of the Workers World Party (WWP) for class collaboration. The WWP was fearful of raising any demands that might alienate their bourgeois liberal coalition partners, who think that war with Iraq is not at the moment in the best interests of U.S. imperialism. ANSWER marshals unsuccessfully attempted to stop our chants and to isolate us from the other demonstrators by holding yellow “caution” tape in front of our banner and literature table. It is clear that these fake socialists want to suppress the views of revolutionaries while ensuring the presence of Democrat after Democrat on the official speaker’s platform.

Would-be leftists internationally make much of their role in building the broad “unity” of the antiwar movement. But as James Burnham, a leader of the Workers Party, then the American Trotskyist organization, argued in his 1936 pamphlet “War and the Workers”:

“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 only 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.”

The ICL is dedicated to forging the world party of socialist revolution that can eradicate the scourge of capitalist imperialism around the globe.

ICL Home Page