Workers Vanguard No. 1110
21 April 2017
Democrats Rally Behind Trump
Defend North Korea! U.S. Out of Syria!
The U.S. imperialist rulers are on the warpath. On April 6, the Trump administration launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at Al Shayrat air base in Syria, directly targeting the regime of Bashar al-Assad. The attack served as a warning to Putin’s Russia that the U.S. is top dog in the Near East. Launched while Trump was dining with Chinese president Xi Jinping, the attack was also a signal to China that its leadership must back the U.S. against North Korea. Within days, the White House announced that the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson was being redirected to the Korean Peninsula, where Japanese warships are scheduled to join it in a display of naked imperialist aggression. Then on April 13, in anticipation of a North Korean missile test, the U.S. dropped a 22,000-pound Massive Ordnance Air Blast bomb—the world’s most powerful non-nuclear bomb—on Afghanistan.
The North Korean nuclear nightmare conjured up by the U.S. government and parroted by the capitalist media serves to obscure the biggest danger to the world’s masses: U.S. imperialism. Not only is the U.S. the only country to have ever used atomic weapons, incinerating 200,000 Japanese civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, but it also came close to using nuclear weapons several times in the 1950-53 Korean War. In that war, some three million people were slaughtered, the peninsula was devastated and North Korea’s capital Pyongyang was flattened by the imperialists.
Like China, North Korea is a bureaucratically deformed workers state where capitalist rule was overthrown. The aim of the imperialists is to restore capitalist rule. Speaking in South Korea on April 17, Vice President Mike Pence threatened a military strike on North Korea, declaring, “All options are on the table.” In a gibe against Obama, he also reiterated Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s line that “the era of strategic patience is over.”
That era never existed. Whether under Republicans or Democrats, U.S. imperialism’s sole policy toward North Korea has always been to foster counterrevolution on the road to overturning the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Trump’s bellicosity, and his unpredictability, raise the prospect of nuclear Armageddon in the Far East. But his predecessor, Obama, also threatened to attack the North, including with nukes, having several times sent B-2 bombers over the peninsula. The Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system that the Trump administration provocatively began installing in South Korea last month had been in the works for months, going back to the Obama presidency.
The overturn and expropriation of capitalism in China and North Korea are historic gains for the international proletariat, despite bureaucratic misrule. As Trotskyists, we stand for the unconditional military defense of these countries against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution. Such defense includes supporting the development of nuclear weapons and effective delivery systems to deter imperialist aggression. As political commentator Mike Whitney noted in an article titled, “The Problem is Washington, Not North Korea” (counterpunch.org, 17 April), “There’s no country in the world that needs nuclear weapons more than North Korea.”
Refusing to bow to Trump’s diktat, the North Korean regime did test-fire a ballistic missile, which reportedly exploded within seconds. It is welcome that the North has gone some way toward developing a nuclear deterrent, including ballistic missiles covering northeast Asia and advances in developing missiles that could reach the U.S. Pacific coast. It is because North Korea has some capacity to fight back that the U.S. has thus far not launched the kind of military strikes that it did in Syria.
The attack on the Syrian air base was widely cheered by the Democratic Party. Indeed, in reversing policy regarding Assad, Trump essentially came over to the position of Democratic Party hawks such as Hillary Clinton, who have long pushed for direct military action to oust Assad and a more bellicose posture toward Syria’s Russian ally. Those Democratic politicians and their press mouthpieces who denounced Donald Trump as an impostor to the presidential throne, a pathological liar, “Putin’s puppet” and too unhinged to have the nuclear codes suddenly joined in a chorus of “Hail to the Chief.” CNN’s Fareed Zakaria proclaimed that with the Syria strike “Donald Trump became the president of the United States.” Given his job description as Commander-in-Chief, yes he did.
Notably, the Democratic Party’s response to Trump’s bellicosity against North Korea has been somewhat more worried, due mainly to the fact that North Korea can not only defend itself but could inflict heavy damage on South Korea and Japan. The New York Times, which on April 7 celebrated the Syrian strikes for having provided it a “sense of emotional satisfaction,” published an editorial on April 17 that lectured, “It would be risky for Mr. Trump to let overconfidence and bombast, expressed in tweets and public statements, box him into some kind of showdown” with North Korea. As a North Korean government official astutely observed, the attack on Syria “proves a million times over that our decision to strengthen our nuclear deterrence has been the right choice. Only military power of our own will protect us from imperialistic aggression.”
For its part, the Trump administration has been putting enormous pressure on the Beijing regime to bring North Korea to heel. While China remains Pyongyang’s only ally, its policy regarding North Korea is premised on the futile Stalinist pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” with world imperialism. China has repeatedly pressured North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons. In 2013 and again last year, China helped the U.S. to draw up UN resolutions imposing sanctions on North Korea following the latter’s nuclear tests. Reportedly, China has stopped buying North Korean coal, and a major government newspaper said that it may curb oil sales to the North in the event of another test—moves that would further undermine the beleaguered North Korean economy. At the same time, it is unclear if China will implement these threats. Chinese trade with the North has actually expanded over the last two years.
Beijing’s collaboration with Washington against Pyongyang harms the defense of the Chinese workers state itself—the ultimate target of the U.S. imperialists. Capitalist counterrevolution in North Korea would bring U.S. forces right to the Chinese border, hugely intensifying the imperialist military threat. Key to the defense of the deformed workers states is the fight for workers political revolution to sweep away the nationalist ruling bureaucracies. The struggle to replace the Stalinist misleaders with governments based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism must be linked to the extension of proletarian power to the centers of world imperialism—West Europe, Japan and the U.S. imperialist colossus. Vital to this fight is the creation of Leninist-Trotskyist parties as sections of a reforged Fourth International.
U.S. Hands Off the World!
The pretext for the attack on Syria was the purported April 4 bombing of rebel-held Khan Sheikhoun with sarin gas, attributed to the regime of Bashar al-Assad, which left dozens dead. We do not know who is responsible, although there is every reason to suspect that Washington’s account is another set of alternative facts. The Syrian government denied carrying out any chemical attack. Russia blamed the opposition, saying a government shell hit a building where rebels were producing chemical weapons. Certainly, the U.S. imperialists are masters at fabrications to justify their wars—from the USS Maine (Cuba), to the Gulf of Tonkin incident (Vietnam) to “weapons of mass destruction” (Iraq).
When it comes to slaughtering civilians, the U.S. imperialists are second to none. According to the Airwars website, in March alone the U.S.-led coalition butchered at least 1,800 civilians in Syria and Iraq. Since late 2014, the U.S. military has been heavily engaged in the Syrian quagmire, with about 900 Special Ops, Rangers and Marines stationed there. Trump is now considering sending an additional 1,000 troops to combat the Islamic State (ISIS). Since August 2014, the U.S. coalition has carried out over 19,000 airstrikes in Iraq and Syria with more than 72,000 bombs and missiles. Meanwhile, the U.S. recently announced it is dispatching dozens of soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division to Somalia.
It takes a heavy dose of chutzpah for Washington to shed tears over the use of chemical weapons. During its dirty war against the Vietnamese workers and peasants, the U.S. dropped more than 11 million gallons of Agent Orange on men, women and children (as well as U.S. soldiers). The U.S. used white phosphorus as an incendiary weapon against Iraqis during the assault on Falluja in 2004 and again last year. The 2004 onslaught, in which 4,000 to 6,000 civilians were killed, was led by Marine general James “Mad Dog” Mattis, the current Secretary of Defense.
Marxists have no side in the grisly Syrian civil war. But we have a side against the U.S. and other imperialists. Thus, while we are implacable enemies of everything the reactionary ISIS cutthroats stand for, we recognize that when they deliver blows against the U.S. occupiers and their proxies—the Iraqi army, Shia militias and Kurdish armed forces in Iraq and Syria—such acts coincide with the interests of the international working class, including in the U.S. At the same time, we do not imbue the repugnant ISIS forces with “anti-imperialist” credentials. We also oppose the capitalist regional powers (such as Russia, Iran and Turkey) that have become involved in the conflict and demand that they, too, get out of Syria. It is unclear whether the Trump administration will commence a full-on war against neo-colonial Syria’s Assad regime. In the event of such a war, we would have a military side with Assad’s forces, while maintaining our political opposition to his brutal capitalist regime.
It is the duty, and a vital interest of the U.S. proletariat, to oppose the depredations of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. imperialists who wage military aggression abroad are also waging a one-sided class war against working people at home. Their cops gun down black people and Latinos in the streets, while their prisons hold a quarter of the world’s prison population. From Ferguson to Baltimore and Standing Rock, those who dare protest the oppression they endure under capitalism have been met with brutal state repression, including rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas.
The struggle against imperialist militarism and war must be linked to a program for the revolutionary overthrow of the world imperialist order by the working class. That revolutionary perspective is rejected by the reformist left. The Stalinoid Workers World Party (WWP) and Party for Socialism and Liberation held rallies to protest the U.S. attack on the Syrian air base. But, denying the possibility of international proletarian revolution, both of these groups tail after Third World nationalists. They are virtually uncritical of Assad’s bourgeois regime, falsely painting his dictatorship as progressive and anti-imperialist. At home, their tailing after “progressive” bourgeois forces has repeatedly put them in the arms of the Democratic Party—like WWP’s celebration of Obama’s 2008 election. The minuscule turnout to demonstrations against the attack on Syria makes clear that the anti-Trump “resistance” ballyhooed by the reformist left is nothing more than a vehicle for the Democrats, who supported the missile barrage.
For its part, the thoroughly wretched International Socialist Organization (ISO), echoing Hillary Clinton, complained that the military strike was insufficient: “The missile strike, targeted on a single airfield, did little to damage the Assad regime’s military capacity,” adding, “This is consistent with the U.S. foreign policy goal, carried over from the Obama administration, of allowing the Assad regime to remain strong enough to head off revolutionary change” (“U.S. Missiles Won’t Liberate the Syrian People,” socialistworker.org, 8 April). Time and again the ISO has complained that the U.S. is not sufficiently supporting the rebels in what it deceitfully calls the “Syrian Revolution” (see “ISO on Syria: Pimps for U.S. Imperialism,” WV No. 1097, 7 October 2016). Being on the side of the imperialists is nothing new for the ISO. In the tradition of its political godfather, Tony Cliff—who broke from the Trotskyist movement in 1950, opposing defense of North Korea and China during the Korean War—the ISO has always championed counterrevolution.
What is desperately needed is class struggle against the capitalist rulers, both to defend the interests of workers and the oppressed at home and to oppose U.S. imperialism abroad. The Spartacist League and our comrades in the International Communist League aim to win the most conscious layers of the working class to the understanding that what is necessary to put an end to exploitation, racial oppression and imperialist slaughter is the overturn of the capitalist order in the U.S. and internationally through socialist revolution.