The following article was first published in Proletarian Revolution No. 67 (Spring 2003).
The LRP took a clear stand in the imperialist invasion of Iraq with its slogan Defend Iraq – Defeat U.S. Imperialism! We explain that by standing beside our brothers and sisters in the “third world,” our position fosters the international unity of all workers that is needed for the struggle against capitalism. The defeat of U.S. imperialism would also advance the interests and struggles of American workers.
Our slogan shocks patriots but also raised questions among those opposed to the war. Some have expressed concern for the fate of American soldiers, most of whom are the sons and daughters of the working class. Others have asked that since Iraq is so outgunned by the U.S., is the slogan just a “principled stand” rather than a guide to action?
As we point out in our lead article, while the Iraqis could hardly defeat the imperialist invaders themselves, it was not totally ruled out that they could defend their country long enough to allow anti-war struggles to threaten the Middle Eastern ruling classes. An outbreak of revolutionary struggles in the region could have forced the imperialists to pull back. On another front, if popular anti-Blair protests in Britain were to accelerate, the weak Blair government could fall, and that would deal a massive blow to the invading coalition.
The position of favoring the defeat of the imperialists is a crucial guide to immediate anti-war struggles. In a number of countries, unions refused to move cargo bound for the imperialist military forces. But once the war began, an effort was made by some anti-war trade union bureaucrats to argue that workers had to “support the troops” not just by demanding they be brought home but also by not stopping the shipment of food and other non-military supplies. These moves weakened overall union opposition to the war in a number of countries.
All attempts to argue that the struggle against the war can be reconciled with the bourgeoisie’s “support the troops” line are capitulations to patriotism and imperialism. As long as “our” troops are following orders and slaughtering the Iraqi people, any support to them is aiding the imperialist war. If union bans were to threaten cutting the food supply to the military and threaten troops with starvation, then the troops would have to learn to fight for an end to the war themselves so that they could return home.
By potentially crippling the imperialists’ war drive, all forms of mass struggle threaten the defeat of the imperialist armed forces. Revolutionaries embrace this aim. “Anti-war” leaders who flinch at this prospect only telegraph their future betrayal of the anti-imperialist struggle.
In saying that the defeat of the U.S. forces is in the best interests of even the U.S. working class, we are not unconcerned with the fate of American soldiers. The core of the army is its trained professional killers, mercenary careerists know in the military as “lifers.” But the majority is made up of working-class youth, particularly Blacks and Latinos, who joined because of the “economic draft” – in search of a stable job or college assistance. It is these working-class soldiers who form the “cannon-fodder” of the imperialist army and who should be encouraged to oppose their officers’ orders to attack.
The alleged grenade attack by U.S. Army Sgt. Asan Akbar on three command tents in Kuwait has stirred up memories of the “fragging” attacks by American soldiers (mainly Blacks) on officers sending them into harm’s way during the Vietnam War. A New York Times article on the class and racial composition of the U.S. military in Iraq quoted a young reservist who had been called up to fight. She objected to the proposal by some Congressmen to reinstate a military draft.
“Already with callbacks you can see the morale is down lower,” she said. “They’re like, ‘I had a job.’ Just think if you had a whole draft of people who didn’t want to be there. I think of that guy who threw the grenade – you wonder if there would be a lot more like that.” (March 30.)
Even in a “volunteer army,” the disenchantment could end up far greater, once soldiers recognize that the Iraqi population views them as killers and conquerors, not the “liberators” promised by Bush and Cheney. Two British soldiers in Iraq have already refused to fight, on the grounds that the war requires the killing of innocent civilians.
When we stand for the defeat of the U.S. side in the war, we take no satisfaction in the slaughter of working-class soldiers subjected to military servitude. It is the ruling class that is sending them to kill and die. But they too will have to learn that their rulers and officers are their enemy, just as their bosses and foremen are the enemies of workers’ struggles everywhere – as their forerunners did during the Vietnam War.