Don’t Crawl for the Democrats— The Other Party of Racism and War

Defend Iraq Against U.S. Imperialist Attack!

Down With UN Starvation Blockade! For Class Struggle Against U.S. Imperialist Rulers! Down With Anti-Immigrant Dragnet!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 795, 17 January 2003.

JANUARY 13—After weeks of storming into Iraqi government and industrial facilities, Hans Blix and his team of United Nations imperialist “inspectors” (spies) concede that they have found no evidence of “weapons of mass destruction.” But it doesn’t really matter in any case. The U.S. imperialists have already dispatched an invasion force of over 100,000 troops to the Persian Gulf region, with Britain deploying 20,000 more. These inspections are nothing but a pretext for war. Indeed, as demonstrated by the U.S.’s response to North Korea’s announcement that it is reactivating its nuclear weapons program, it is the very fact that Iraq has no such capability that emboldens the U.S. for war.

For all their talk that any war with Iraq have UN sanction, the French imperialists have already dispatched warships to the Gulf. The Social Democratic government of Gerhard Schröder in Germany, which won re-election on the basis of opposition to a war against Iraq, is now mooting that no second UN resolution is necessary before an attack is launched. At the same time, there is massive opposition throughout West Europe to the impending war. Even in Britain, where Tony Blair’s Labour government has operated as a mouthpiece for the Bush White House, there have been antiwar demonstrations of hundreds of thousands. Last week, a shipment of military goods bound for the Gulf was halted when railway workers refused to move the freight train carrying it.

We stand for the military defense of semicolonial Iraq against U.S. imperialist attack. This entails no political support to the regime of Saddam Hussein, the bloody butcher of Iraqi workers, leftists, Shi’ite Muslims, Kurds and others. As such, he was a close ally and client of U.S. imperialism for two decades before he made a grab for Kuwait in 1990. Now the U.S. wants a more pliant regime and tighter control of the oil spigot, not least to put economic rivals like Japan and Germany, who are more dependent on Near East oil, on rations.

It is the height of cynicism that the world’s bloodiest power with the greatest arsenal of nuclear weapons claims to be going to war to rid Iraq of “weapons of mass destruction.” Even a dairy facility or pharmaceutical plant can be targeted as a potential facility for the production of chemical and biological weapons, as can water purification systems using chlorine. In short, this is a program for the obliteration of all industry and infrastructure in the country. Indeed, much of Iraq’s sewage and water treatment systems have already been devastated by American bombing. And one of the first targets of U.S. bombers in 1991 was a baby formula factory that the Americans claimed was a biological weapons facility.

Tens of thousands of Iraqis were killed in the 1991 Gulf War, and more than 1.5 million have been killed since through the UN starvation sanctions. A recent report released by International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War estimates that as many as a quarter of a million people could be killed in the course of the coming war. Meanwhile, the Israeli government of Ariel Sharon—with jet fighters and helicopter gunships supplied by American imperialism—has used the U.S.-led “war on terror” to escalate its murderous onslaught against the Palestinian people, which could increase to cataclysmic proportions under cover of a U.S. war with Iraq. Down with the U.S./Israel axis of terror! Defend the Palestinian people! All Israeli troops, settlers out of the Occupied Territories!

Anti-Imperialism Abroad Means Class Struggle at Home!

The patriotic “one nation indivisible” hysteria whipped up following the criminal attack on the World Trade Center has grown thin under the weight of recession, mass layoffs and grotesque corporate corruption. And the country at large is far from united behind the war on Iraq. On January 11, 30,000 or more antiwar protesters marched in Los Angeles and many tens of thousands more are expected to turn out for nationwide protests on January 18 to demand “No War on Iraq!” The October 26 demonstrations in Washington, D.C., San Francisco and other cities drew up to 250,000 people. The Spartacist League/Spartacus Youth Clubs built Revolutionary Internationalist Contingents in D.C. and San Francisco around the slogans: “For Class Struggle Against the U.S. Capitalist Rulers! Defend Iraq Against U.S. Imperialist Attack! Down With the UN Starvation Blockade!” Against Workers World Party (WWP) and its International ANSWER Coalition, organizers of these demonstrations, our contingent mobilizing call stressed (WV No. 789, 18 October 2002):

“They are mobilizing on the basis of opposition to a war on Iraq, but as the call for the demonstration makes clear, their activities are consciously aimed at enlisting a wing of the capitalist rulers—primarily Democratic Party politicians—to struggle for a more ‘humane’ imperialist capitalism.... It is futile to oppose war against Iraq but not oppose the economic system which generates war and the ideology that legitimizes it. Moreover, pushing illusions in the reformability of the bloody American imperialist state can only result in the demobilization of the only force in capitalist society that can challenge the rule of the capitalist class: the working class.”

The October 26 demos provided a platform for an array of “antiwar” Democrats like Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and Cynthia McKinney. Like Barbara Lee, who cast the sole vote in Congress against giving the Bush administration a blank check for war in Afghanistan, and Al Sharpton, who is running for president in opposition to an Iraq war, these liberal Democratic Party politicians seek to position themselves to get ahead of and contain the increasing discontents that the capitalist rulers’ war at home and abroad will generate among working people and minorities. It is small wonder that the majority of these politicians are black Democrats who are more attuned to the fact that there is enormous anger and disaffection particularly among black people and the poor.

The January 18 demonstrations are scheduled for the weekend of Martin Luther King Day. The protest organizers invoke the legacy of Martin Luther King to draw the link between the fight against racial oppression at home and war abroad in order to promote liberal opposition to war. To be sure, there is an inextricable link between the two. Just look around. From the get-go, the “war on terror” has been brought home in a racist witchhunt against immigrants, primarily Muslims and Arabs. And as the U.S. amasses forces for war against Iraq abroad, it is rounding up male immigrants over the age of 16 from 20 different countries while threatening Iraqi Americans and Iraqis in the U.S. with mass incarceration.

The fight against imperialist war cannot be divorced from the struggles of working people and minorities against all manifestations of capitalist oppression. The multiracial working people of America and the semicolonial masses of Iraq have a common enemy in the exceptionally war-crazed, labor-hating gang in the White House and the capitalist class it represents. America’s colossal military advantage over Iraq underscores the importance of class struggle in the imperialist centers as a chief means to defend Iraq. We look to the example of the Japanese dock workers in Sasebo, who refused to handle Japanese military goods destined for use in the war against Afghanistan in the fall of 2001. But the aim of the demo organizers is not to promote a class-struggle defense of immigrant rights and opposition to imperialist war, but rather to promote the idea that positive social change can come through liberal Democrats.

An ANSWER leaflet for the upcoming rally declares that King “believed it was impossible to wage a war on racism and poverty at home while waging a racist war against poor people in Vietnam.” The U.S. ruling class never had the intention of waging a “war on racism and poverty,” then or today. While King was hounded by the Feds and assassinated for being a symbol of the struggle for black equality, his political role was to keep the civil rights movement firmly tied to the racist Democratic Party of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Another ANSWER leaflet for the January 18 protests argues: “Like Dr. King did during the Vietnam War, we will demand that hundreds of billions of dollars be spent on jobs, education, housing, healthcare and to meet human needs—not for wars of aggression in the Third World.” In case these reformist idiots haven’t noticed, the U.S. capitalists have acquired their untold billions of dollars through the exploitation of labor and the immiseration of the oppressed. If you want to get your hands on the money, you have to break the power of the bourgeoisie and place the means of production in the hands of those whose labor creates the wealth of society.

LRP: “United Front” with Imperialist Liberals

Neither WWP/ANSWER nor any of the other reformist groups endorsing these protests raises the necessary call for the defense of Iraq against U.S. attack because to do so would mean antagonizing Democratic Party liberals. The centrist League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP) strikes an oppositional posture, declaring: “We stand for the defeat of imperialism and the defense of the Iraqi people in any war against the imperialist powers” (Proletarian Revolution, Fall 2002). The LRP article also polemicizes against WWP/ANSWER for “pushing the liberal imperialist line” and providing a platform for the Democrats. However, we can’t help but note that the LRP’s defense of Iraq and calls to defeat imperialism are buried within an article that at bottom promotes the same class-collaborationist unity pushed by the reformist groups it attacks:

“The task of genuine revolutionaries is not just to ‘build the movement,’ although we are of course in favor of the largest and strongest anti-war protests possible. We need also to fight for them to be built as genuine united fronts, where all voices are heard, including that of revolutionaries—not just those who support the Democrats and other pro-imperialist liberals. We also fight within the movement for revolutionary proletarian leadership, so that it points to a lasting challenge to capitalist attacks and imperialist war.”

By its own admission, the LRP promotes an alliance with the class enemy—“Democrats and other pro-imperialist liberals.” The idea of building a “revolutionary proletarian leadership” out of such a cabal is downright absurd; however, it is a measure of the opportunist impulses that animate the LRP. There cannot be a common movement and a common program against imperialist war with representatives of the very capitalist class in whose interests such wars are waged. To attempt to do so can only mean subordinating the working class, the only force that can actually defeat imperialism, to the interests of its capitalist exploiters.

In contrast, revolutionaries seek to break the disastrous unity of antiwar militants with the most deceptive wing of the bourgeoisie and replace it with a working-class unity—a unity based on a program of international class struggle. As V.I. Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party which led the only successful antiwar movement in history by overthrowing the rule of capitalist imperialism in Russia at the height of World War I, explained in Socialism and War (1915):

“To rally these Marxist elements, however small their numbers may be at the outset; to reanimate, in their name, the now forgotten ideals of genuine socialism, and to call upon the workers of all lands to break with the chauvinists and rally about the old banner of Marxism—such is the task of the day.”

The LRP’s professed “stand for the defeat of imperialism” is a manifest fraud considering that this organization capitulated to the imperialists down the line in their drive to destroy the Soviet Union. Although bureaucratically degenerated, the USSR was a workers state, based on collectivized property forms which represented real gains for the working class internationally. It was the elementary duty of revolutionaries to unconditionally militarily defend the Soviet Union against imperialism and internal counterrevolution, as it is necessary today to defend the remaining bureaucratically deformed workers states—China, Vietnam, Cuba and North Korea. But the LRP howled along with the imperialist wolves in opposing the Soviet military intervention against the CIA-backed woman-hating Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan in the 1980s and stood with the counterrevolutionary forces headed by Boris Yeltsin that destroyed the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92.

IG: Empty Bombast, Opportunist Practice

Another group that claims to stand apart from the reformist swamp is the centrist Internationalist Group (IG), which raises the call “Defeat U.S. Imperialism! Defend Iraq!” (Internationalist, September-October 2002). At the time of the U.S. military adventure in Afghanistan over a year ago, the IG loudly and indignantly took us to task for supposedly “flinching” in the face of jingoist warmongering because we did not emblazon “Defeat U.S. Imperialism!” across the front page of Workers Vanguard. They attacked our slogan, “For Class Struggle Against Capitalist Rulers at Home!” writing in the Internationalist (Fall 2001) that “the emphasis on ‘at home’ is counterposed to the call to defeat the imperialists abroad” and claiming that our line “amounts to nationalist, economist social pacifism.” But these days, the IG itself seems to have fallen into “economist social pacifism,” writing in its current issue: “Our call for defeat of the imperialists means class struggle at home.”

But this is all just cynical wordplay. As we noted at the time of the U.S. war against Afghanistan (“No to Bosses’ ‘National Unity’! For Class Struggle at Home!” WV No. 768, 9 November 2001):

“At bottom, the IG deliberately muddles the question of a military defeat in a particular war with the proletarian defeat of one’s bourgeoisie through socialist revolution. The latter is the program animating any truly revolutionary party in peacetime as in wartime. The slogans used to proceed toward that end—to lead the working masses from their current level of consciousness to the seizure of state power—are, however, necessarily conjunctural. Thus, upon returning to Russia after the overthrow of the tsar in early 1917, Lenin had to fight against those in the Bolshevik Party who wished to lend support to the bourgeois Provisional Government. Having won this battle, he then had to caution left proletarian elements of the party who wanted to immediately call for the overthrow of the Provisional Government. On 5 May 1917, the Central Committee passed the following motion authored by Lenin: ‘The slogan “Down with the Provisional Government!” is an incorrect one at the present moment because, in the absence of a solid (i.e., a class-conscious and organised) majority of the people on the side of the revolutionary proletariat such a slogan is either an empty phrase, or, objectively, amounts to attempts of an adventurist character’.”

And the IG’s phrasemongering is of the most empty sort—fraudulent bombast which they peddle to impress the unwary in cyberspace while on the ground they practice pure opportunist accommodation. For example, on paper the IG claims to share our position hailing the Soviet Red Army intervention into Afghanistan in the 1980s. But at an IG-initiated united-front protest at New York City’s Hunter College in November 2001 against the anti-immigrant witchhunt accompanying the U.S. war against Afghanistan, not one of the IG’s placards, not one of their speakers and none of the propaganda they produced for the protest said a word about the Red Army or defense of the Soviet Union. In his speech to the protest, IG leader Jan Norden made no mention of the Red Army intervention, only declaring lamely: “We fought against the Taliban, we fought against the Islamic fundamentalists when the United States was pushing them.” The IG did not want to offend those, like the International Socialist Organization (ISO), the LRP or the Revolutionary Communist Party who had endorsed and attended the rally and who to a man were on the imperialists’ side against the Red Army in Afghanistan.

The IG’s utter silence in front of the crowd of several hundred people at Hunter on the force that could have defeated the U.S.-backed reactionaries in Afghanistan—the Soviet Red Army—demonstrates that its oh-so-revolutionary calls for the defeat of U.S. imperialism are so much hot air. When they produced a 32-page IG pamphlet (December 2001) devoted to the Hunter protest, the IG went so far as to edit out any reference to the Soviet intervention in the SL speech at the rally and completely eliminated any mention of the SYC speaker, who had said:

“All of the left groups now talk about how the U.S. armed and funded the mujahedin against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the ’80s. But what they don’t say is that they all capitulated to the imperialist anti-Soviet war drive, with, for example, the ISO hailing the mujahedin as ‘freedom fighters.’ Only we Trotskyists said: ‘Hail Red Army in Afghanistan!’”

Lessons of the Vietnam Antiwar Movement

An understanding of the dearly bought lessons of the past is crucial to the consciousness that is necessary if the proletariat is to be mobilized in the struggle to shatter the rule of capitalist imperialism. The reformists wilfully falsify those lessons in order to peddle their opportunist wares to a new generation of fighters. Thus, Socialist Action leader Jeff Mackler holds up as a model the single-issue campaign organized by the National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC) during the Vietnam War to “Bring the troops home now!” (Socialist Action, November 2002).

Mackler himself was prominent in the ex-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party which at the time dominated NPAC. Limiting the protests to pacifist demands to bring the troops home, NPAC explicitly appealed to (and succeeded in drawing in) liberal Democratic Party politicians who sought to extricate American imperialism from this losing colonial war and to head off a challenge to the capitalist order at home. To ensure that NPAC demonstrations remained “peaceful, legal,” i.e., safe for liberal imperialist politicians, the SWP policed the movement and at times bloodily attacked those who solidarized with the Vietnamese revolutionary fighters or opposed allying with the Democrats. In his article, Mackler continues to take aim at those “who insist that more militant tactics are required to stop the war machine,” arguing that such militancy is counterposed to building a “mass movement.”

The effect of NPAC was to deflect antiwar youth back into the confines of bourgeois electoral politics, and it played a key role in defusing enormous opportunities for struggle against the capitalist order. By the late 1960s and early ’70s, the ghettos had been erupting in upheaval for a number of years; workers had begun staging a number of militant strikes, some in defiance of both the government and the labor bureaucracy; and the heavily black and working-class GIs in Vietnam were in a semi-mutinous state. The National Guardsmen who shot down four antiwar protesters at Kent State in the spring of 1970 had just come from a strikebreaking mission against the Teamsters, who at the time were engaged in a huge national wildcat strike. But in subordinating opposition to the war to political representatives of the class enemy, NPAC’s class-collaborationist “antiwar” movement was counterposed to a revolutionary mobilization of the workers.

What brought an end to the Vietnam War was not NPAC’s peace crawls or even the more militant civil disobedience protests. Rather it was the battlefield victory of the Vietnamese workers and peasants, who were fighting not only to expel the American invaders but for a social revolution against the capitalist order. We called for military victory to the North Vietnamese deformed workers state and the South Vietnamese revolutionary fighters and raised the slogan “All Indochina Must Go Communist!”

The Spartacist League fought to win radical antiwar activists to the proletarian struggle. In an October 1967 leaflet titled “From Protest to Power,” we explained:

“A political movement built solely around the war is incapable of unifying the various forces of discontent within American society. On the contrary, the necessary support given to the suppression of the American working class by establishment ‘doves’—[antiwar Senator] Wayne Morse is a leading Congressional advocate of government strike-breaking while the liberal establishment, including King, unanimously supported the bloody suppression of the ghetto risings—is a major obstacle to building a mass anti-war movement....

“The anti-war movement can force Johnson to withdraw U.S. troops only if he is more afraid of it than of the victory of the Vietnamese Revolution. No demonstration, however effective and militant, can do this. Only a movement capable of taking state power can. The anti-war movement has no future except as a force for building a party of revolutionary change.”

Today, as well, we fight to break the ideological chains that bind the working people, oppressed minorities and radicalized youth to the “lesser evil” Democratic Party of American imperialism. The central task remains the forging of a revolutionary workers party to lead the workers to power. Only by wresting the means of production from the hands of the capitalist imperialist rulers and creating an international planned economy can the needs of the billions of toilers now consigned to hideous poverty begin to be met and the threat of war ended once and for all. Anti-imperialism abroad means class struggle at home! Defend Iraq against imperialist attack!

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