The following article was originally published in Proletarian Revolution No. 80 (Fall 2007).
Promising to start a withdrawal of troops from Iraq, the Democrats rode a wave of anti-war sentiment to win control of Congress in the 2006 elections. Nearly a year later, little has changed. When Bush called for a “surge” of yet more troops, the Democrats squawked but dutifully voted to give him the billions of dollars he demanded. And so the monstrous carnage – which has already killed a million Iraqis and exiled or internally displaced several million more – continues.
The Democrats’ anti-war rhetoric was as phony as the reasons Bush gave for starting the war. As a capitalist party, the Democrats are no less committed than the Republicans to maintaining the U.S. in its position as the world’s dominant imperialist power. That’s why they were initially almost unanimous in not opposing Bush’s invasion of Iraq. They became critics of the occupation only after it began to fall apart and the U.S. proved unable to quell the armed resistance.
But now the Democrats are faced with fundamentally the same problem as the White House. The U.S. has already lost the war in Iraq: despite reported military gains, its client Iraqi government is a shambles. The greatest problem for the imperialists now is how to stop the disaster from becoming a far greater catastrophe for them. They have no easy answer, and whatever course they take will be paid for by more slaughter in Iraq.
The Iraq war is costing hundreds of billions of dollars and draining the overstretched American military. But the instability of the entire region resulting from the war, plus the overall demands of imperialist domination, require the U.S. to maintain a significant military force in Iraq and nearby for many years to come. Indeed, the White House and all the major Democratic presidential candidates are already threatening to attack Iran in order to reassert American power and mobilize regional allies. Whatever their real intention, the escalating threats inevitably bring the danger of a war against Iran closer.
The truth is that no matter whether the White House is occupied by Republicans or Democrats, the U.S. will only leave Iraq if it is driven out. The resistance in Iraq cannot defeat the U.S. militarily, but it can inflict military and economic costs that the politicians at home cannot afford to pay. In this context, rising class struggle and protest in the U.S. could force the government’s hand.
Tragically, such an outburst of struggle is unlikely at the moment. There is great potential for a working-class fightback, but that has been held in check, chiefly by pro-Democratic Party trade union and community leaders. Similarly, while anti-war sentiment continues to rise in the working class and in most other layers of society, the once sizable, largely middle-class anti-war movement is demoralized and demobilized, having been led into the dead end of supporting the Democrats. So the politicians in Washington play their cynical games, lying and maneuvering for electoral advantage.
Thus the Democrats in Congress refuse to force Bush to agree to any timetable for even a nominal withdrawal of troops. (See The Democrats’ Congressional Maneuvers.) They fear being held responsible for the consequences, and do not want to expose the fact that they too intend to keep tens of thousands of troops in Iraq. They prefer to let Iraq burn so they can use it to their political advantage in the 2008 elections. For his part, Bush wants the onus for the inevitable retreat to fall on the Democrats so that they can be charged with surrender. And round and round they go.
For the ruling class, this is a very dangerous game. The Middle East, on whose oil the world economy depends, has been greatly destabilized by the U.S.’s failed occupation of Iraq. And this summer the world financial system shuddered, as mortgage and loan defaults wreaked havoc with credit and panicky investors feared a crash of the grossly overvalued stock market. The inability of the U.S. rulers to resolve their Iraq dilemma does not add to the confidence of capitalists around the world.
Wars abroad and worsening poverty, exploitation and racism at home are not the result of “evil” or greedy individuals. They are inherent in the capitalist system. And in the past few decades of overall economic stagnation, the capitalists have intensified exploitation in an ever more vicious competition for spoils. The only alternative is to overthrow the capitalist ruling classes and their blind, voracious pursuit of profit and to build a classless socialist world.
To assess the crisis facing U.S. imperialism, it is necessary to understand what drove the U.S. to invade Iraq in the first place. As Proletarian Revolution has explained from the start, the war was not simply the work of an extremely right-wing White House; it was a response to profound developments in the capitalist system.
The September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks dealt a humiliating blow to the U.S. Reliant on their domination of the neo-colonial world, the imperialists had to teach a bloody lesson to the masses of the Middle East, as well as to all local dictators who dreamed of any role beyond obedient service to Washington. Moreover, the rulers were anxious to use the U.S.’s status as the world’s lone superpower to press their advantage over potential economic rivals. After summarily overthrowing the Taliban in Afghanistan, seizing oil-rich Iraq while flaunting international opposition seemed to many to be the ideal means to their ends.
On top of this, Bush’s grand plan was to stabilize Iraq and the Middle East through “democracy.” That meant setting up pluralist governmental structures to encourage local power brokers to vie with each other electorally while insuring an open field for imperialist aggrandizement.
Invading and occupying Iraq was always going to be tremendously risky. But awareness of the critical state of the world economy and growing international rivalries drove the ruling class to back the invasion. This, plus an arrogant underestimation of the difficulty of subduing the Iraqi masses, along with outright political opportunism, explains why the invasion initially enjoyed bipartisan support.
Now that the invasion and occupation have failed, the ruling class seeks to limit the damage – and pursue the same goals by different means. On this point all the Republican and Democratic politicians agree, including those few who opposed the war all along out of a fear that it would backfire.
However, Washington’s chances of keeping the lid on while pulling its troops out are close to nil, as a chain reaction looms. The civil war in Iraq is already showing its potential to spill over the borders and destabilize the volatile region. Iran and Saudi Arabia are increasingly facing off over Iraq, with Iran seeking to prop up a Shi’ite-dominated government, while the Saudi rulers threaten to step up their support of the Sunni insurgency. Further, the establishment of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq has only encouraged the Kurds there and in neighboring countries to push for a unified independent nation-state. In response, Turkey is already threatening to escalate its incursions into Iraqi Kurdistan. U.S. troops are barely keeping this explosive bottle corked.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are resurgent, and the U.S.-backed Karzai government controls little of the country beyond Kabul. In neighboring Pakistan, Islamic radicalism is on the rise, and growing discontent among the professional middle class and the country’s impoverished masses threatens Gen. Musharraf’s pro-U.S. military rule. In Lebanon, the U.S.-supported government hovers near collapse in the face of Hezbollah forces emboldened by their defeat of Israel’s 2006 invasion. And in Palestine, the U.S. and Israeli imperialists have succeeded in pushing the rival Fatah and Hamas forces toward civil war, leaving the imperialists no one to negotiate with to achieve a more stable oppression of the Palestinian people.
The effects of the disastrous war go well beyond the Middle East. The weakening of the U.S. military and its preoccupation with Iraq encourages others to challenge U.S. interests. In the neo-colonial world, Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez, most notably, are bucking the U.S. for regional military and political clout as well as a bigger slice of the economic pie. Among other imperialist powers, Russia is for the moment the most aggressive, taking provocative military steps to help advance its economic power, most immediately its claims to oil reserves in the Central Asian states of the ex-USSR. Since the U.S. military needs to be freed from its Iraqi quagmire in order to present a more credible threat to other powers, talk of a “withdrawal” of troops from Iraq corresponds to real needs of the ruling class.
The gravity of the crisis finally shook the ruling class to action after Bush began his second term in office. Bush’s grand scheme was collapsing ignominiously. Congress, then still in Republican hands, organized the bi-partisan Baker-Hamilton commission to investigate alternatives. Duly warning against a “precipitate withdrawal” from Iraq, the commission strongly urged a significant pullback, which Bush immediately ignored in ordering his latest “surge” of tens of thousands more troops.
But Bush’s “surge” has proved a miserable failure politically. At the cost of more U.S. dead and billions more dollars, bombings and sectarian violence have increased in Iraq, including in Baghdad where the troop presence is strongest. Assassinations of government figures continue unabated, and so many Iraqi elected officials are in hiding abroad that parliament struggles to meet. Even the heavily fortified “Green Zone” faces regular bombardment.
The White House is hyping its new alliance with anti-Al Qaeda Sunni sheiks in Anbar province. But this bloc helps to undermine Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s government. And Washington’s new allies will likely turn their guns on the U.S. again in the future.
The “surge” was supposed to afford Iraq’s government the opportunity to meet certain “benchmarks” of progress to the U.S.’s liking. These included using Iraq’s own military to quell sectarian violence and passing a hydrocarbon law opening Iraq’s resources to imperialist plunder. But the Maliki government has failed on all counts. Far from reducing sectarian violence, its armed forces have mostly refused to confront the insurgents, while many of them are direct participants. U.S. officials and politicians are barely concealing their wish to replace Maliki with a strongman ruler. We pointed out from the start of the occupation that the imperialists would need a dictatorial regime despite their democratic pretensions. (See PR’s 68, 71 and 74.) Now their need is absolutely clear, but the chances of such a regime succeeding are minimal.
As for the new oil law, Maliki had to postpone attempts to pass it in the face of a strike against it by the oil workers. (See below.) The Democrats’ endorsement of this law shows again the bipartisan concern for imperialist interests that motivate the occupation.
The obvious political failure of the surge sent a new shiver down the ruling class’s spine. By July, news agencies were reporting that the White House was “in panic mode” over defections by Republican senators from Bush’s persistent stay-the-course policy in Iraq. The New York Times, the U.S.’s premier ruling-class newspaper, reversed course and issued an editorial entitled “The Road Home,” arguing that “It is time for the United States to leave Iraq, without any more delay than the Pentagon needs to organize an orderly exit.”
Like Baker-Hamilton, the Times expressed the ruling class’s dilemma by emphasizing that it opposed “precipitate withdrawal.” Rather, withdrawing troops to bases inside Iraq and neighboring states was necessary. And that of course is what all the Democratic and Republican doves stand for: keep troops nearby to defend U.S. interests and attack the Iraqi resistance when necessary.
While Bush and a few other Republicans still talk of fighting to victory in Iraq, a rough consensus is developing among rulingclass strategists over what to do next. The inevitable disputes will be over timing and partisan political one-upsmanship. Significant numbers of U.S. troops would be withdrawn from the main fighting in Iraq and stationed at nearby bases – near the oil-producing areas inside Iraq and in neighboring states. Their essential role would be to prevent the Shi’ite-Sunni civil war from spreading and allow the various factions to exhaust themselves in a grisly showdown after which a power-sharing agreement could be negotiated between the combatants.
Despite all the lies and deception, redeployment – the growing ruling-class retreat from the war – is significant. The “shock and awe” that was meant to be a devastating demonstration of American power has turned into a debacle. The stability of the imperial world order, enforced by the American superpower, is being rocked. The U.S. war lit a fuse to the regional tinderbox.
The catastrophe for imperialism that the U.S. has unleashed occurs against the backdrop of a world where masses are rising up by fits and starts. Latin America, South Africa and China are witnessing serious challenges to the status quo by the oppressed and exploited. As we wrote in PR 79, the imperialist rulers are facing a genuine crisis of leadership; hence the vicious backbiting in Washington. Tragically, what saves them is the even more severe crisis of working-class leadership.
The resistance in Iraq is slowly forcing the occupiers to retreat, and in doing so it is aiding every struggle in the world against imperialist depredations. Most Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein’s vicious dictatorship, but the American occupation and its reign of murder, torture, and profit-gouging is now far more despised. The Arab masses in Iraq correctly view the American presence as a colonial intrusion that not only oppresses them, but having stirred up a hornets’ nest, fails to protect them. It has foisted upon them a venal and sectarian government, which together with Halliburton, Bechtel and other American corporations, has been “rebuilding Iraq” by stealing everything that isn’t nailed down. Under Saddam the Iraqis at least had water and electricity. They see the U.S. as responsible for mass unemployment, starvation and bloodshed of such proportions that millions of them have already fled their homeland. Is it any wonder that polls show a huge majority wants the U.S. thrown out?
Consequently the armed resistance has grown stronger and more sophisticated. The mass of Iraqis support the anti-American leaderships of various militias and insurgent groups. But under the cover of resistance, armed thugs are also waging a vicious civil war, whipping up religious and ethnic differences to scramble for bigger shares of the booty once the occupation ends. Prominent opposition leaders, from the populist Islamist Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to Sunni “tribal heads,” are alternately fighting against the occupation forces and allying with them.
These leaders, religious and secular, are ultra-reactionaries who prate about populism and dole out small benefits that people can’t get from the U.S. or its friends. Unfortunately, some Iraqis believe in what the reactionary misleaders preach, including the subordination of women and the evil of trade unions. But many do not – they support them as the only way at the moment to defeat the occupying army and its local pawns. As long as the U.S. stays in the region, the masses are drawn to supporting these forces.
Marxist revolutionaries stand for the defeat of American imperialism. The imperialists are the major enemy not only of the Iraqis, but of American workers and all of humanity. (For further discussion of how communists approach resistance in oppressed nations, see Defend Iran Against U.S. Imperialism [a separate article in this issue, PR 80].)
Siding with the masses in the fight against imperialism helps point the way to the class struggle in the Middle East. Imperialism has no right to be there. Its presence promotes civil war. Its ejection will allow the working classes in the region leverage to create the only alternative to exploitation, oppression and more wars.
In Iraq itself, the working class has been decimated. Strangled by Saddam’s notorious anti-trade union laws, which were endorsed and enforced by the U.S. proconsul L. Paul Bremer after 2003 and again by the current Maliki government, the beleaguered workers have continued to fight. Most notable was the oil workers’ strike in June, whose main aim was to stop the proposed hydrocarbon law. This law was framed in terms of sharing oil revenues among Iraq’s provinces, but it also allows foreign (in effect, U.S.-based) oil corporations to expatriate the bulk of profits from Iraq’s fields. After months of arm-twisting by the Americans, the Iraqi cabinet passed the bill in July. But because of opposition from Sadr and the Sunnis and other factors, parliament postponed voting on it. When the oil workers shut down the pipelines in June, Maliki called on his army and U.S. planes to threaten the strikers. But Maliki had to temporarily settle the strike by promising not to bring the measure up until October.
The combative and socialist-minded oil workers remain strong, since they are the heart of the Iraqi economy. Their unions oppose the occupation and disdain clerical rule. Further and wider strikes would heavily impact both the economy and the political situation. This is yet another reason why Washington is united in its effort to keep a military presence in the Middle East.
In Iran, despite a virtual blackout in the American media, it is crucial to note the rapid growth of independent unions and militant strikes. The Islamic regime has been countering with murder, torture and mass arrests. It has beaten and jailed important union leaders like Mansour Osanloo, who leads the powerful transport workers’ union in Tehran – yet the workers are not cowed and are ready to strike again. The workers hate the regime; but a crucial factor that is preventing its overthrow is the repeated threat of armed attack made by not only Bush and Cheney but by all the major Democratic presidential candidates as well.
The continued presence of imperialism in the region is the chief deterrent to a struggle for a better life by the workers of the entire region. Recently, the potentially powerful Egyptian working class has been erupting in the face of the authoritarian Mubarak regime that is lavishly supported by the U.S. Together with the Iranian workers and other superexploited toilers throughout the region they represent the best hope not only for solidarity with Iraqi workers but for the internationalist struggle to overthrow both the Middle Eastern capitalists and the imperialists.
The overwhelming majority of U.S. workers want this war ended and the troops brought back. But we cannot fool ourselves: American workers are hostile to the Iraq war largely because it is losing and seems to be shedding blood for no good reason – not because they object to or even see its imperialist character. At the same time, their anger against the politicians is mounting because Congress and the presidential candidates put forward no answers. Nor are they looking to the anti-war movement, which they see as largely irrelevant.
Congress’s performance, especially the vote handing Bush his funds on a silver platter, should have at least shaken up the anti-war leadership, most of which has relied on electing Democrats as the way to end the war. But angry responses were few.
Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq who energized anti-war activity two years ago by camping out at Bush’s ranch in Texas, dramatically announced that she was quitting the Democratic Party because of the May vote. She had denounced the March resolution as a betrayal; in May she spelled out that Iraq was now the Democrats’ war as much as Bush’s. “Blood is on your hands,” she said.
In this, the non-socialist Sheehan is far ahead of many avowed leftists. The main anti-war coalition, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) was totally complacent. Judith LeBlanc, cochair of UFPJ and a leader of the invariably pro-Democrat Communist Party, said “I think the Democrats are using the politics of reality.” At the UFPJ national assembly in Chicago in late June, not even a ripple of response to the Democrats’ funding vote or to Sheehan’s outrage was expressed.
The rival ANSWER coalition postures to the left of UFPJ. It criticized the Democratic leadership but did not mention the role of the House liberals like Lee and Waters, fakers who regularly appear on ANSWER platforms. Meanwhile ANSWER and UFPJ continue to put their rivalry ahead of united action. As we write, they are up to their usual sectarian games of calling separate demonstrations this fall, thus dividing the anti-war activists. These various anti-war leftists are what Lenin in his day described as “social pacifists” – really “social patriots” under the skin. No wonder they support Democratic imperialists.
There are plenty of phony socialists and leftists who blather about how the Democrats are weak-kneed and can’t be trusted to take a firm stand against the war. But they are not telling the truth if they do not say openly and clearly that the Democrats are the class enemy. The Democratic Party is a deadly poison for the working class, the only class in capitalist society that has the power to do away with imperialism.
The crisis of working-class leadership can only be overcome through a struggle against the labor bureaucrats, the leaders of the oppressed and the heads of the anti-war protests who have detoured the struggles into the hands of our class’s enemies in the Democratic Party. The leftists who tail these misleaders also deserve exposure, since they divert the most politically advanced workers and activists, who are crucial to the coming struggles.
The mass of Americans are angry over the unending war, along with the allegedly growing economy that plunges working people deeper into debt and threatens their jobs, pensions and health care. As the polls show, they are rightfully cynical over the promises made by the Democrats as well as the Republicans. Present-day American reality ensures that the masses are not about to opt for socialist revolution, even though objectively that is the only real way out. However, that lesson will never be learned if advanced workers do not now openly propagandize for mass class struggle and proletarian revolution, as opposed to the pseudo-socialists’ embracing of populist class collaboration and the Democratic Party.
Just imagine if the powerful transit workers’ strike in New York City in December 2005 had not been sold out and cut short by the union leadership. Shutting down profits in the financial center of world capitalism would have done more to hinder the war than any Congressional vote or impeachment drive. That is why supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party have been an important factor in the transit union. We fought for strike action and the just demands of the workers, confronting the bureaucrats and the treacherous Democrats while also speaking out on the need for workers to oppose the ongoing imperialist wars.
Likewise, in 2006 millions of immigrant workers poured into the streets to fight the attack on them, once again in spite of misleadership. They too are a potential threat to imperialist stability and its war.
We do not argue that workers fighting for their immediate demands is enough to end a war. By themselves, such actions can only present stumbling blocks to the ruling class. There aren’t any alternatives to building a fighting working-class revolutionary party. However, the consciousness of our class can only be raised when it engages in such actual struggles – and when revolutionary workers are active within those struggles seeking to show the way forward. Revolutionaries fight within such struggles for demands which could unite the whole working class and undermine the imperialists at home and abroad.
Internationalists recognize that the struggles here aid fellow workers in Iraq, just as their struggles aid us in the U.S. Authentic revolutionary communists are the only ones who unequivocally stand for defeat of U.S. imperialism in Iraq and the rest of the world – including here at home.
As capitalist parties, the Democrats differ from the Republicans in one key respect: their electoral base is centered on the working class and on racially oppressed people, Blacks and Latinos. Hence the Democrats have to be careful to not mobilize their base against the halls of power. In contrast to the Republicans’ safer, more privileged petty-bourgeois and middle-class base (plus backward sections of the working class), if workers’ struggle is triggered it could turn against the capitalists. That is why the Democrats so often seem to be craven cowards, caving in to Bush and the Republicans at every turn. The problem is not their lack of guts; it’s their gut class interests.
So let us see how the Democrats used their newly-won power in Congress. In January, the Senate unanimously approved Bush’s nomination of General David Petraeus to head the Iraq operation, even though Petraeus was appointed because he supported sending thousands more combat troops into Iraq. In February, Congress adopted a resolution opposing Bush’s “surge.” But this was a “non-binding” con game.
Then came their most deceptive maneuvers. In March they passed a bill authorizing $124 billion in emergency funding for combat operations in Iraq. Their explanation was that the bill contained “benchmarks” for the Iraqi government and U.S. forces to meet, plus an August 2008 deadline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Bush vetoed the bill, complaining of its restrictions on presidential authority.
Beneath the Democrats’ rhetoric, however, their vetoed bill had authorized Bush to continue the war, using the cover of national security. It placed no restraint on deploying additional combat and support troops for unrestricted durations, and allowed for U.S. forces staying in Iraq permanently. This travesty of an “anti-war” bill was not just the work of the party leadership under House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. California representatives Barbara Lee, Maxine Waters, Lynn Woolsey and Diane E. Watson – the heads of the Progressive, Black and “Out of Iraq” congressional caucuses – voted against the bill themselves but okayed caucus members’ supporting it. This backhanded support – 65 out of 71 members of the Progressive Caucus voted for the bill, as did two-thirds of the Black Caucus – was crucial, since a strong Democratic vote was needed to overcome the Republicans’ opposition.
In late May the Democrats went all the way, achieving a new standard in the annals of parliamentary fraud. This time Congress produced a bill that was acceptable to Bush, so the Republicans backed it. But the Democrats served as its enablers. According to the Associated Press, “In a highly unusual maneuver, House Democratic leaders crafted a procedure that allowed their rank and file to oppose money for the war, then step aside so Republicans could advance it.” Speaker Pelosi negotiated the final deal but then, along with most of the House leadership, voted against it. Although only 86 Democratic House members voted for the actual funding bill, an overwhelming majority – 216 out of 231 – endorsed a decisive procedural vote that moved the bill forward and made its passage inevitable, given the Republicans’ support.
In the Senate, the bill was supported by large majorities of both parties. Presidential rivals Clinton and Obama cast token votes against it, but only after waiting to verify that their votes were not needed for adoption.
In July, Congress again debated war policy, as the imperialists’ situation in Iraq and Afghanistan worsened. Nothing was passed, since the Democrats couldn’t get enough Republican votes to adopt even a fake troop reduction plan. The real aim of the Democratic politicians – all of them, the “anti-war” liberals as well as the moderate leadership – is not to end the U.S. occupation but to keep it going. They denounce Bush and deplore the war in order to contain and divert the mass anti-war sentiment.
Republicans and Democrats are maneuvering for electoral advantage by either scaring or placating the public. The parties and their rogue’s gallery of sound bite-spewing candidates, are dancing to the tune of cash registers ringing up enormous campaign contributions. Their scams, however, have not done them much good in the polls: even though Bush’s popularity has dropped below 30 percent, that of Congress is even lower. Their useless “debate” will continue in the fall.
Given the behavior of the two main anti-war groupings, a rival outfit with even further left pretensions has stepped forward. “World Can’t Wait,” an operation run by the Maoist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), published a full-page ad in the June 22 New York Times that demanded the impeachment of Bush and Cheney because “2008 is too late!” (It did not point out that impeachment would boost Nancy Pelosi, constitutionally the next in line, into the White House.) The ad, continuing the pro-Democratic focus of blaming the war on Bush & Co. alone, was signed by many public figures and a spectrum of the anti-war left.
At a World Can’t Wait public forum in New York on June 25, the most heralded speaker was “Rocky” Anderson, the populist Democratic Party mayor of Salt Lake City. With a U.N. flag flashing on the screen behind him, Anderson called for withdrawal because, he said, the occupation has immeasurably hurt the U.S.’s status in the world. He was given a standing ovation. Sunsara Taylor of the RCP and World Can’t Wait, speaking afterward, called for mass action in the streets and for “prominent people” to stand up and be counted. She criticized the Congressional Democrats for betraying the anti-war movement – but she did not challenge Anderson’s call to resurrect the world role of U.S. imperialism.
The blatantly opportunist RCP slobbers over friends in high places. And it has made clear in practice that its slogan “Drive Out the Bush Regime” means “Elect Democrats.”