Fight U.S. Imperialism Through Class Struggle at Home!

Defend Iraq!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 796, 31 January 2003

JANUARY 28—The January 18 protests in Washington, San Francisco and other U.S. cities were the largest antiwar demonstrations in this country since the Vietnam War. Within the population at large, support for an invasion of Iraq is at best lukewarm, and polls indicate a growing majority oppose a unilateral U.S. attack. In Europe, hundreds of thousands have marched in protest against the evident intent of U.S. imperialism and its British auxiliaries to launch an all-out attack on Iraq, a country which has had its social fabric and never-considerable military strength eviscerated by more than a decade of United Nations sanctions.

Even as chief UN weapons inspector Hans Blix claims that “Iraq appears not to have come to genuine acceptance...of the disarmament which was demanded of it,” he concedes that his team of imperialist spies has found no evidence of “weapons of mass destruction.” Meanwhile, in Washington the drums of war are beating ever louder. U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell intoned that the “burden is upon Iraq” to prove that it has no weapons. “The onus is on us to prove we don’t have any,” replied an Iraqi official. “How can you prove a negative?”

Bush’s recent promise to hold Iraq’s oil resources “in trust” for the Iraqi people is simply a promissory note to the oil barons of ExxonMobil and BP. It is just such moves that offend America’s imperialist rivals, most notably France and Germany, who threatened not to vote for Bush’s war plans in the UN Security Council. The rift between Europe and the U.S. is sharper today than it has been for decades. When French president Jacques Chirac and German chancellor Gerhard Schröder announced last week that they would not support an immediate war against Iraq, it provoked a frenzied response by the Bush administration. Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld contemptuously dismissed France and Germany as “old Europe.” The right-wing tabloid New York Post (24 January) ran a front-page headline denouncing Chirac and Schröder as the “Axis of Weasel.”

But it is not only the question of Near Eastern oil. As the Berlin Tagesspiegel (24 January) opined: “‘Iraq’ has become the code word for everything that divides Europe from America.” The Bush administration’s naked assertion of Washington’s “right,” without even a fig leaf of pretext or provocation, to “preemptively” attack any country perceived as challenging U.S. power and prerogatives has shocked and horrified people, and governments, around the world.

While 150,000 American troops are being deployed to the Persian Gulf region, an article in the Los Angeles Times (26 January) reports that the U.S. “is preparing for the possible use of nuclear weapons against Iraq.” According to the article, the decision to use nukes rests in the hands of STRATCOM, a “tightly controlled, secret organization” under Rumsfeld. The article noted “the contradictions inherent in contemplating the use of nuclear weapons for the purpose of eliminating weapons of mass destruction.”

It is no wonder that the nuclear cowboys in Washington are today seen by much of the world’s population as “the greatest threat to world peace,” as reported in the Toronto Sun (26 January). That was the opinion of more than 83 percent of Europeans polled by Time magazine’s European edition, with Iraq coming a distant second at 8.9 percent.

This is the shape of the “new world order” emerging from the restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. Without Soviet military might to stay its hand, U.S. imperialism has been riding roughshod over and expanding its military presence on every continent. Interimperialist rivalries that were usually subordinated to the common cause of destroying the Soviet Union have now come to the fore. At the same time, the complaints of the European governments about American “unilateralism” are merely the squeals of less powerful states who want a bigger cut of the take (including of a post-Saddam Iraq) and would prefer to be treated less rudely. Even as they condemn an American war against Iraq, the French government has sent warships to the Gulf.

What is needed is to mount class-struggle opposition against this imperialist war. This in turn requires a policy of uncompromising proletarian class independence. Yet the European pseudo-socialist left kowtows to the various labor and social-democratic parties, historic “left” enemies of proletarian revolution. In so doing, the fake left acts in the service of the more “humane” pretensions of their own rulers, whose appetites are currently restrained by the military ascendancy of U.S. imperialism. Last fall, a whole raft of European leftists including the Italian Rifondazione Comunista, the French Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire and the British Socialist Workers Party and Workers Power issued a “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 who appeal to their own bourgeoisies against U.S. imperialism promote the resurgent chauvinism that paves the way for a future interimperialist war. Thus, for example, Rifondazione Comunista’s Liberazione (23 January) ran a headline, “Paris-Berlin, United for Peace.”

This treacherous role is all the more significant because, even before a massive escalation of the air war or the beginning of a ground invasion, there is already a high degree of proletarian opposition to war in Europe. Earlier this month, Scottish train drivers engaged in an expressly political antiwar class-struggle action by refusing to deliver war materials slated for the largest NATO weapons depot in Europe. In Italy, the metal workers trade- union federation has announced a political strike the day war begins.

In the U.S., the organizers of the January 18 antiwar protests, Workers World Party’s International ANSWER coalition, strive above all to keep their liberal-pacifist movement safe for preachers and Democratic Party politicians. The left liberals and the occasionally left-speaking sham socialists seek the “reform” of capitalism’s excesses and a more “humane” imperialism. The “road” to this ersatz utopia is paved by their political subordination to the liberal wing of the Democratic Party. Insofar as these Democrats have a different perspective, it is toward supporting the “soft” approach of the United Nations—i.e., to continue the starvation blockade and the weapons inspections and to secure UN mandate for an all-out war. Here, too, the purpose is to stifle and contain any class-struggle opposition to the war.

As we wrote in a statement of the International Communist League (WV No. 790, 1 November 2002):

“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. Anti-imperialism abroad means class struggle at home! Defend Iraq against imperialist attack!

For Class Struggle Against U.S. Capitalist Rulers!

The wave of patriotism ignited by the criminal attack on the World Trade Center is receding amid the increasing real miseries and wholesale attacks on democratic rights that confront the American population. At least 42 union locals, 14 district or regional union councils and four national unions have issued some statement of opposition to a war against Iraq. These resolutions are a reflection of growing discontent among workers with the consummately venal Bush administration, which showers billions in tax cuts on their cronies while workers get pink slips and watch their pensions go down the drain. In the last two years alone, official unemployment has jumped by 50 percent, from a rate of 3.9 percent to 6 percent. This does not include the many millions of ghetto and barrio youth who have never found a job in the first place and the millions more long-term unemployed who are not even counted.

As the last vestiges of welfare and other social programs are shredded, the number of homeless has skyrocketed in the last two years. And those who do have jobs often find themselves one paycheck away from losing their homes and health coverage. Despite the endless predictions by Wall Street hacks that the recession is finally coming to an end, Brad DeLong, a University of California economist, aptly observed: “2003 doesn’t feel good at all for the unemployed, and it doesn’t feel very good for the employed” (New York Times, 26 January).

Many of the union antiwar resolutions simply oppose unilateral U.S. action against Iraq, i.e., advising that American imperialism proceed under the cover of the UN. Others place opposition to war within the framework of American “democracy,” such as a January 14 resolution by the National Executive Board of the American Postal Workers Union which “opposes the pending war with Iraq” and continues that “pre-emptive attacks against sovereign states are not consistent with the principles of freedom and respect for all people.”

On January 11, trade unionists from dozens of unions across the country attended a conference in Chicago hosted by Teamsters Local 705, the second-largest in the country, to establish “U.S. Labor Against the War.” The result of this gathering was a motion opposing the war which proclaimed that American labor has no quarrel with the ordinary citizens of Iraq, that Bush has failed to make a case that an Iraqi threat exists and that U.S. military action “threatens the peaceful resolution of disputes among states, jeopardizing the safety and security of the entire world.” The motion further denounces “the billions of dollars spent to stage and execute this war [which] are being taken away from our schools, hospitals, housing and Social Security,” says “Bush’s drive for war serves as a cover and distraction for the sinking economy, corporate corruption and layoffs,” and condemns “the war [as] a pretext for attacks on labor, civil, immigrant and human rights at home.” The conferees resolved to “promote union, labor and community antiwar activity.”

Such resolutions are a reflection of the growing dissatisfactions of American workers with their power- and profit-maddened rulers. Moreover, these calls stand as a partial rejection of the “national unity” chauvinism that is pledged by the top echelons of the trade-union bureaucracy. While AFL-CIO top John Sweeney has promised to stand shoulder to shoulder with U.S. imperialism in its “war against terror,” Teamsters head James Hoffa Jr. is a member of Bush’s “Committee for the Liberation of Iraq.”

For its part, the Chicago conference was dominated by hoary veterans of the pro-Democratic Party peace crawls that they claim brought an end to the war in Vietnam who now occupy positions in the middle echelons of the labor bureaucracy. A participant at the conference, Joann Wypijewski, approvingly reported in CounterPunch (17 January): “The final resolution...includes neither patriotism nor Palestine; it makes no rhetorical flourish on the nature of fundamentalism or capitalism; it neither embraces the UN nor denounces American imperialism.” And consciously so.

Invited to speak at the meeting as the obligatory spokesman for bourgeois opposition to the war was one David Cortwright of Keep America Safe/Win Without War, described by Wypijewski as “a mainstream patriotic coalition of Americans who are concerned about Iraq but don’t want to go to war.” Bill Fletcher, former education director of the AFL-CIO, delivered what has become the ritual incantation in the service of class collaboration: “We have to have a broad level of unity. If we make anti-imperialism the premise of our work then we’re building a sect, and I’m too old for that.” The aim of such types is not to mobilize labor’s social power in concrete acts of class struggle against U.S. imperialism—e.g., political protest strikes against the war or stopping shipments of military goods. Rather their aim is to organize labor as one more constituent of a pro-Democratic Party “peace movement.”

The political points that the CounterPunch article enthuses were left out of the Chicago resolution are in fact the very basis upon which any genuine proletarian opposition to the war must be mobilized. Workers must be brought to understand that they share no interests with their capitalist bosses; that imperialist war is simply the extension of capitalism’s quest for the profits that are solely obtained by the exploitation of labor; that for the imperialists guns are butter; that the UN operates solely to perpetuate and enforce the world’s domination by the major imperialist powers. On the side of the U.S., the coming war is completely predatory; on the side of Iraq, it is just and defensive. Workers must be won to the military defense of Iraq against U.S. imperialism’s neocolonial war, recognizing that this in no way implies any political support to Saddam Hussein, the butcher of his own working people and oppressed.

For America’s capitalist rulers, workers are mere fodder for profit at home and war abroad. But precisely because it is the working class that produces the wealth of society, it is the sole force capable of ending imperialist war through overthrowing the capitalist system that spawns war. The defense of Iraq against imperialist attack is integrally linked to the defense of the working masses here against increasing exploitation and oppression. The task is to forge a workers party to educate and mobilize the proletariat with the purpose of abolishing capitalist class rule. And that requires breaking the allegiance of the workers to the class-collaborationist, national-chauvinist labor leaders.

The Lessons of Vietnam

Reformists like WWP/ANSWER and left-talking union bureaucrats hope to recapitulate the “successes” of the Vietnam-era National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC), which was dominated by the reformist Socialist Workers Party (SWP). But it wasn’t the peace demonstrations that drove the U.S. out of Vietnam. The Vietnam War had a combined character as both a resistance to imperialist colonial domination and, given the military intervention of the Vietnamese deformed workers state in the North, the prospect of a social overturn of capitalist rule in the South. It was the battlefield victory of the heroic Vietnamese workers and peasants that brought an end to the war by defeating U.S. imperialism.

Then as now, it was argued by the antiwar reformists that any course other than “broad”—i.e., class-collaborationist —unity would be “sectarian.” The SWP reformists sought to ensure that NPAC would be safe for Democratic Party liberals by imposing a political ban—including by physical force when necessary—on those who sought to advance revolutionary politics. Thus, at a 1971 NPAC conference, the SWP launched a physical attack against the Spartacist League and Progressive Labor Party when we protested the presence of Democratic Senator Vance Hartke. Such repression was not a historical accident. Capitalism’s rulers do not countenance proletarian opposition and demand that the social-democratic supporters of the capitalist order “deal” with such opposition.

Today, ANSWER finds itself criticized by the very bourgeois elements it courts for raising such “extraneous” issues as the demand for the release of black death row political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. These critics “wish that when it sponsors antiwar rallies, it would confine its message to opposition to the war” (New York Times, 24 January). While the Spartacist League defends the Workers World Party against this redbaiting, we recognize that when push comes to shove, the reformists carry out the liberals’ wishes with baseball bats. WWP was certainly not hesitant to use violence and to appeal to the capitalist cops in defense of its class collaborationism against the Spartacist League at the time of mass protests against the U.S. intervention in El Salvador in the early 1980s.

After an April 1967 antiwar march brought out a half-million people in New York City alone, veteran Marxist Isaac Deutscher remarked that one dock strike against the war would have been worth a thousand peace demonstrations. His point was not to dismiss student activism but to point out that the political mobilization of labor prepares the basis for the overturn of the capitalist system of exploitation, oppression and war.

By the late 1960s there were enormous opportunities for mobilizing class-struggle opposition against the Vietnam War. As the number of American GIs returning in body bags mounted, popular opposition to the war spread from the campuses to the black population and sections of the working class. The heavily black and working-class base of the U.S. military in Vietnam had become semi-mutinous, as measured by the number of officers who were being “fragged” —i.e., killed by their own soldiers. In the U.S., the inflationary effects of the massive war spending and the government’s imposition of a wage freeze were fueling large-scale strikes. In 1970, postal workers defied the law and staged the first major strike ever against the federal government. This was followed by a Teamsters wildcat action in Ohio.

The American trade-union bureaucracy was, at that time, dominated by the Cold Warriors who had achieved their posts by driving the reds who had built the CIO out of the trade unions in the aftermath of World War II. AFL-CIO chief George Meany was a rabidly racist anti-Communist who if anything was to the right of Republican president Richard Nixon in his support for the war. And “progressive” labor leaders like Victor Reuther, one of the CIA’s men in purging Communists from the labor movement in Europe and a prominent labor figure at NPAC rallies, voiced opposition to the war in order to defuse labor discontent. Reuther personified the link between the labor movement and the Democratic Party. In the view of social democrats like Reuther, labor opposition was to be confined to their presence on the speaker’s stand at antiwar mobilizations.

The Spartacist League called for military victory to North Vietnam and the South Vietnamese National Liberation Front and raised the slogan: “All Indochina must go Communist!” We sought to galvanize the widespread discontent that was expressed through economic strike struggles and to win the working class to political opposition to the war, raising the call for “Labor strikes against the war!” In a 23 March 1970 leaflet directed at the postal strike, we wrote: “The same army that Nixon is threatening to use in breaking the postal strike is being used to suppress the Vietnamese workers and peasants in order to keep Asia safe for American business.” When the National Guardsmen initially called out to break the Ohio Teamsters wildcat gunned down four antiwar protesters at Kent State, we explained in a May 1970 leaflet titled “Blood and Nixon”:

“Only the working class, because of its economic power, can lead an effective anti-war struggle. Only the class-conscious workers can lead the struggle to defeat capitalism....

“Workers whose job conditions and falling real wages force them continually into conflict with the bosses must see as essential to their own interests the fight to end the bosses’ imperialist war and to break from the bosses’ warmonger political parties to form a party of labor. These struggles—like struggles for militant economic demands—will necessitate the replacement of the treacherous union bureaucracies which seek at every turn to tie the workers to the status quo.”

Only Workers Revolution Can End Imperialist War!

But the class-collaborationist antiwar movement that the likes of ANSWER hark back to embraced the class enemies of the proletariat. As bourgeois opposition to that losing imperialist war mounted, finally forcing Nixon to begin withdrawing U.S. troops, the pacifist antiwar movement simply melted away. The thousands upon thousands of youth won to opposition to U.S. imperialism quickly exited the struggle against that system. America’s rulers moved to reassert the dominance of their class and their state power with an assault on labor, on the scant gains of the civil rights movement, and on the very ability of the poor to survive. However mad, Bush’s declaration of eternal war against all those who dare to oppose the American imperialist order, both at home and abroad, is a simple expression of the logic of the decaying capitalist system.

To intervene into last October’s antiwar protests, the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs built Revolutionary Internationalist Contingents 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!” As we argued in the mobilizing call for these contingents: “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.”

Today, such bourgeois opposition as exists is, in the main, oriented toward directing U.S. imperialism’s attentions against the “real threat,” the North Korean deformed workers state, and ultimately against all such societies—China, Vietnam and Cuba—where capitalist rule was overthrown. Self-proclaimed leftists like the International Socialist Organization and the Revolutionary Communist Party now decry the arrogance of the Bush administration in its bid for world domination. But these same groups made their own, albeit pusillanimous, contribution to U.S. imperialism’s rise as the world’s only “superpower” by supporting the forces of imperialist-backed counterrevolution that destroyed the Soviet degenerated workers state, the major counterweight to the untrammelled ambitions of U.S. imperialism.

The Spartacist League seeks to educate and when possible organize the proletariat against imperialist war and in its class interests, which ultimately require the overthrow of capitalism through socialist revolution. Proletarian opposition to the depredations of the imperialist exploiters can, in the words of Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky, be pursued “only through the revolutionary mobilization of the masses, that is, by widening, deepening, and sharpening those revolutionary methods which constitute the content of class struggle in ‘peacetime’” (“Learn to Think,” May 1938). We fight to forge the internationalist workers party needed to lead the proletariat to power.

ICL Home Page