The United States ruling class is again preparing for war against Iraq. The Bush White House has announced its plan to unleash its superpower military with the aim of removing Saddam Hussein from power, and the leaders of the Democratic Party are cheering enthusiastically. Iraq’s workers and poor people, who live under the brutality of Saddam’s dictatorship and are already starved by the U.S.-U.N. economic embargo, will of course suffer most from the planned attack.
The horrendous terrorist attacks on New York’s World Trade Center gave us a taste of what the Iraqi people suffered in the last Gulf War. We have seen towers explode and later fall. We know what it’s like to see groups of people jumping from buildings. And we know how people must sift through rubble looking for body parts in the aftermath.
If we imagine not just two buildings being attacked, but every major building in an entire city, and if we then imagine that horror continuing night and day for 43 days, then we can begin to imagine what the people of Baghdad, and every other major city in Iraq, experienced in the last Gulf War. While more than 3,000 people were killed by the terrorist attacks of September 11, over 200,000 Iraqi men, women and children were slaughtered by the U.S.’s “Desert Storm” terror.
Since then, another 1.5 million Iraqis have died from malnutrition and preventable diseases as a result of the sanctions – 7,000 children per month. In a 1996 interview, Leslie Stahl of 60 Minutes asked Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright about the effect of sanctions on Iraq: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. ... is the price worth it?” Albright infamously responded “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price we think the price is worth it.”
Six years later, the Iraqi masses are again targeted for monstrous suffering. U.S. workers will be the ones called on to sacrifice for the war effort, while protests and strikes at home will be condemned as anti-American. As usual, it will be the children of the working class who will be expected to fight and die. Meanwhile the capitalists will rake in the cash.
September 11’s aftermath testifies to the brutal class divide that runs through American society. No sooner had the terrorists hit the WTC towers than hundreds of courageous firefighters were running into the buildings to save people, only to lose their own lives in the process. Then thousands of construction laborers, transit workers as well as firefighters and others volunteered for the grisly, dangerous and exhausting work of sifting through the rubble for survivors.
The ruling class, through its politicians and media, hailed a new patriotic “unity” in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Meanwhile, the capitalists were busy cooking their books, stealing workers’ pension funds, selling their stocks and looting every last dollar from companies before letting them collapse on their workers like the WTC towers. Sure the capitalists shed tears over September 11: they cried all the way to the bank.
Even the President and Vice President have been exposed as corporate crooks – Bush for his insider stock trading with Harken Energy and Cheney whose Halliburton Corporation was second to none in accounting fraud and pension looting. Under any other circumstances the White House would have been shaken to the core, but September 11 helped the ruling class whip up sufficient patriotic fervor to allow it to survive the financial scandals relatively unscathed.
Now the capitalists hope to take further advantage of September 11 to assert their military might across the globe, and tighten its chokehold on the world’s oil resources. Washington’s threatened invasion of Iraq is about profits. It’s about oil all right, but it is about far more than oil profits alone.
The Bush Administration plans on waging its war against Iraq under the banner of protecting the world from Saddam’s supposed arsenal of biological, chemical and nuclear “weapons of mass destruction.” The idea that Saddam plans to use weapons of mass destruction against the U.S. or Israel and thus guarantee his own annihilation in a U.S. counter-attack is ridiculous.
Moreover, the U.S.’s posturing is utterly hypocritical. First, the U.S. is the only ruling class in the world to have used nuclear weapons against population centers (its atomic bombing of the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II).
Second, the only significant biological attacks against Americans were the anthrax attacks that followed September 11. They were done with anthrax made by the U.S. military, and the No. 1 suspect for the crime is a former CIA agent.
And third, the only Middle Eastern state with nuclear weapons is Israel. It boasts that it has nuclear missiles trained on every major city in the Arab world. Of course Israel is not being ordered to disarm. On the contrary, the U.S.’s rulers need Israel armed to the teeth as its watchdog to guard the region’s oil wealth on behalf of American companies.
Undaunted by such hypocrisy, the U.S. supports its “case against Iraq” with a grab-bag of distortions, lies and cover-ups:
The politicians’ and bosses’ lust for profits and power corresponds with the deepest demands of the capitalist system they serve. The world economy is sliding further into crisis. Profits are falling. Even the mighty U.S. economy is beginning to sink. By invading Iraq, the U.S. not only hopes to profit from directly exploiting Iraq’s oilfields. It also aims to assert its power over an increasingly unstable world.
The key division in the world is between the capitalists and the masses of workers they exploit. But the deepening economic crisis forces the capitalists to intensify another division – that between the most powerful “First World” imperialist states and those of the exploited and dominated “Third World”. The first years of the last century saw the super-powers divide the world into empires of colonies they directly ruled. Since World War II they have preferred to dominate from a distance, with local rulers doing their dirty work. Thus the imperialist powers have super-exploited the masses and resources of the “Third World” and used the profits to stabilize their rule at home.
This oppression and exploitation constantly provokes massive rebellions which have at their heart the struggle of the working class and poor masses against capitalist exploitation. Inspiring recent examples of this include the popular uprising that toppled the U.S.-backed Suharto regime in Indonesia, and the mass struggles that overthrew the pro-U.S./International Monetary Fund government of Argentina just last year.
Often, however, capitalist forces in the “Third World” temporarily succeed in taking advantage of the masses’ anti-imperialist sentiment to try to gain some leverage against the imperialists whose interests they ultimately serve. The September 11 terrorist attacks were an attempt by radical Islamic capitalist forces to manipulate popular anti-imperialist sentiment in the Middle East to their advantage.
It is this increasingly unstable system of capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression that the U.S. sits atop as the world’s lone superpower. It must maintain an all-powerful military as a constant threat to the masses to show them that behind their local rulers stands a force ready to crush them. It must also intimidate local capitalist pawns who may try to buck the system for a larger slice of the profits.
As the world economy lurches into crisis, nations and multi-national corporations are driving wages ever lower while forcing more production in order to compete with one another. The U.S. and its friends in Europe and Japan are rivals as well as allies. As profits continue to sink, they will be forced to fight ever more intensely over the diminishing spoils. It is this combination of factors that is forcing the U.S. ruling class to plan on invading Iraq and seizing control of its oil wealth.
Imperialist military might is essential to maintaining the capitalist system. But the September 11 attacks challenged U.S. imperialism’s claim to be all-powerful and thus greatly destabilized the system. Right after the September 11 attacks last year, we wrote:
American workers are justifiably and intensely angry over the murder of their innocent brothers and sisters. ... But George W. Bush and the rest of the scum who rule America are angry for a different reason. Somebody has humiliated them; their place as the world’s most powerful and seemingly invincible terrorist has been challenged!
... Soon, as Bush & Co. intimate, the masses abroad will receive a bloody response which will dwarf past atrocities and re-establish who has the only “God-given right” to engage in mass murder on this planet. Terror does rule the world, and Bush wants to make it clear who is going to exercise it.
The U.S. war on Afghanistan was only a limited success in this respect. It did succeed in toppling the Taliban and installing a puppet regime, slaughtering thousands of civilians in the process. But even against this weak enemy the U.S. failed to kill or apprehend the top Taliban or al Qaeda leadership. U.S. imperialism’s challenge now is to show that it can smash a bigger enemy.
Iraq’s oil reserves are second only to Saudi Arabia’s. Gaining direct control over that vast source of wealth would provide an immediate boost to U.S. profits, particularly for Bush and Cheney’s buddies in the oil business. And with the seething unrest in the Middle East the U.S. capitalists want to impose an iron authority over the region.
The U.S. already produces most of the oil it uses. But Washington’s tightened chokehold on world oil supplies will give it an even more powerful economic weapon with which to continue dominating its more oil-dependent imperialist competitors in West Europe (particularly Germany) and Japan, as well as political allies/rivals like Russia and China. For this reason, the Bush Administration had secretly drawn up plans for invading Iraq well before September 11.
An invasion of Iraq also answers the U.S. ruling class’s domestic needs. As profits continue to fall, companies collapse and there are more revelations of corporate corruption, working class anger could turn to action. This would be nightmarish for the capitalists, who know that they must drastically intensify their exploitation of the working class in order to rescue their profit rates. But another war, and another opportunity to hype patriotic unity, would be very helpful. And the government gets the chance to pour billions more into the armaments industry!
Of course no one would ever suspect that Bush & Co. might hope to use their war campaign to influence the November elections. Republicans who stole the presidential elections would never think of shedding blood to win votes!
The British ruling class, whose economic interests are thoroughly bound to those of the U.S. capitalists, and who are dependent on U.S. power for leverage against Germany and other rivals in Europe, has of course leapt to support Bush’s war plans. However it is no surprise that rival imperialists like Germany, France and Russia sometimes speak out against Washington’s war moves. They know that increased U.S. power will only weaken their relative strength in the system. They also fear it will unleash a tidal wave of mass upheavals around the world. Working-class and popular explosions against imperialism have already occurred in Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Working-class economic militancy is growing in Europe as well as hostility to the coming war.
But in the absence of mass struggles that force the imperialists to back off, sooner or later they will have to accept the U.S.’s dictates. To really challenge U.S. imperialism’s war plans would only destabilize the system and also invite popular upheavals. Indeed, all the imperialists ultimately rely on U.S. power to stabilize the system for their benefit as well. Their temporary protests are cynical attempts to extract economic and political concessions from the U.S. before they agree to back the war.
Far more than the European imperialists, the Arab rulers are caught between a rock and a hard place. Saddam Hussein was a local enforcer for U.S. imperialism. He got out of line when he tried to grab a bigger share of oil profits through his 1990 invasion of Kuwait. By smashing Iraq, the U.S. plans to send a warning to its other pawns around the world of what awaits them if they fail to enforce imperialism’s interests.
The Arab dictators, kept in power by U.S. arms and finances, are widely hated for being brutal servants of imperialist exploitation. They are particularly despised as collaborators with the U.S. in its support for Israel’s murderous oppression of the Palestinian people. And the Palestinian masses’ intifada continues to inspire masses throughout the Arab world to rise up in struggle.
Thus the Arab rulers feel the pressure to back the U.S.’s war drive. At the same time they fear that outrage at the war will trigger popular uprisings against them. For example, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak sits uneasily atop the region’s biggest working class. He pleads that if there is a war, “not one Arab leader would be able to control the angry outburst of the masses.” Amr Moussa, head of the Arab League, gave voice to the same fears, saying an attack on Iraq would “open the gates of Hell in the Middle East.”
A humiliating slap in the face, September 11 was also a blessing to the U.S. ruling class. Distrust of politicians and big business was rising as the economy started to decline. Layoffs, crises in health care and education and threats to Social Security were threatening to spark workers’ struggles. September 11 allowed the ruling class to avoid mass protests in response to the corporate crashes and scandals. It promoted patriotic unity to undermine potential resistance to its economic attacks against the working class by insisting that workers must sacrifice for the good of the nation. The government handed billions of dollars to the biggest corporations to “stimulate” the economy, who then turned around and laid off tens of thousands. Workers’ Social Security funds were raided to pay for the war effort and for tax breaks for the capitalists.
The government also lost no time in drastically strengthening its policing powers. The first victims were Middle Eastern and Central Asian immigrants, who continue to face racist harassment as suspected terrorists. Hundreds still languish in jail without any charges pressed against them, and without access to legal representation. Blacks and Latinos were encouraged to believe that the post-September 11 patriotic unity might at least partly overcome racism. However the boosting of police powers, and the legitimizing of “racial profiling” of Arabs has only paved the way for increased racist police harassment and brutality.
Underneath the White House’s bland sermons about ethnic and racial solidarity lurks the reality that the chauvinism whipped up against Arabs is not confined to those who live overseas or just to Middle Eastern and Central Asian immigrants in the U.S. The small ruling class maintains its power by turning worker against worker everywhere. The patriotic “unity” binge was designed as cover for promoting its divisive racial war at home.
The government’s boosting of state powers is aimed against the entire working class. Ominously, in the face of a possible strike by longshore workers on the West Coast, Bush’s “Homeland Security” Director Tom Ridge warned that national security is at risk, setting the stage for the courts to attack the union and for the National Guard to break the strike. Indeed, adopted after September 11, the “USA Patriot Act” took care to define terrorism broadly enough to include normal working-class struggles like protests and strikes. Terrorism, it declares, includes any “attempt to ... intimidate or coerce a civilian population” or change “the policy of the government by intimidation or coercion.” Left to the bosses’ judges to interpret, rulings like those in the New York City transit struggle of December 1999, when even breathing the word “strike” was declared illegal, threaten to become commonplace.
When the U.S. swings its imperialist sword, the blade cuts both ways. We have seen how the ruling class took advantage of September 11 to not just assert its imperialist power overseas, but also to advance its racist, anti-working class agenda at home. We can expect more of the same from a war against Iraq.
This is why revolutionary socialists are working-class internationalists. Nationalism serves to tie the workers and oppressed of the world to their oppressors. We reject nationalism and embrace the international cause of the working class. The Iraqi masses are our brothers and sisters who have been forced to tolerate Saddam’s murderous rule because of Washington’s genocidal threat. For U.S. workers, our main enemy is, likewise, the U.S. ruling class.
Washington’s war drive threatens to slaughter hundreds of thousands more Iraqis in our name. In this world of brutal oppression, pacifism is for privileged fools. The workers and oppressed must defend themselves. It is the internationalist duty of the American working class to defend the Iraqi people.
The experience of the corporate scandals and declining economy has chipped away at the post-September 11 patriotic wave. Workers are very suspicious of the politicians’ and bosses’ motives. Workers must deepen this class hostility in the fight against Washington’s war-drive.
In every workplace, school and college campus, we must cut through the lies and expose Washington’s war aims. In the unions, we must raise motions opposing the war that tie the union leaders to more than just nice words – they must throw the unions’ weight behind organizing protest actions. Demonstrations against the war must be built.
Fighting Washington’s moves toward war with Iraq is also essential to most effectively fighting the ruling class’s anti-working class and racist attacks at home. A war on Iraq will be used to oppose our struggles. Union workers who need to strike to defend and improve their working and living conditions will be denounced as aiding the enemy. Blacks, Latinos and immigrants who want to protest incidents of racist oppression will be condemned for dividing the nation.
Inevitably, the ruling class will try to use their war on Iraq to escalate their economic attacks on the working class to restore their falling profits. They will revive their calls for sacrifice, look to force us to work harder for less, and claim budget crises as their excuse for cutting spending on education, health care and other social services. So opposing a war on Iraq will prove to be an elementary act of self-defense on the part of workers and oppressed people in this country as well.
World-wide struggles can stop Washington’s war against Iraq, just as struggles by the workers and oppressed can stop the capitalists’ day-to-day attacks at home, and even win improvements. But capitalism relies on brutal exploitation and oppression to survive. As the world economy slides toward a depression like that of the 1930s, capitalism will turn to all its tested methods of mass unemployment and starvation, war and dictatorship, to continue its rule. This is the nightmarish future capitalism offers humanity unless it is overthrown.
But the system has, in its own brutal way, laid the basis for its own overthrow. In earlier times, class society was the unavoidable result of a scarcity of the necessities of human life. However capitalism has built an international economy which is capable of producing an abundance for all the world’s people. Not only are hunger and homelessness avoidable, but modern technology and industry has the potential power to produce more than enough to fill every material desire and liberate all from want and back-breaking labor. The barrier to creating this world of abundance is capitalist ownership of the economy, which limits production to what can be sold for profit.
Capitalism has also created the class capable of overthrowing it – the working class. Brought together from all parts of the world and organized by the production process, the working class can turn that organization against the capitalists as it struggles to defend itself. Through the course of growing struggles, the working class will learn that it has the power not just to defeat the capitalists’ attacks, but to overthrow their system once and for all. Revolutions that put the working class in power can overcome the conditions of capitalist misery and build a world of freedom and abundance for all. Racism and national oppression will be buried along with their economic foundation.
Capitalism inevitably drives the masses to revolt. Necessary for victory, however, is a revolutionary socialist party to lead the struggle. The workers and oppressed do not need saviors from on high; they will be their own liberators. That begins with the fact that the revolutionary party will be built by the most politically advanced workers and youth. As a result of their experience of fighting racist oppression and their leading role in the struggle overall, Blacks, Latinos and immigrants will be represented in the revolutionary leadership out of proportion to their numbers in society at large.
We, in the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), with our comrades abroad in the Communist Organization for the Fourth International (COFI) are dedicated to the task of building the international revolutionary party our class needs. If you’re interested in learning more about our views and the struggles we’re involved in, get in touch with us. We’ve a world to win and not a moment to lose.