During months of phony diplomacy, the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis hung in the balance. Now the Bush Administration, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians, and the polite opposition of the United Nations Security Council, is executing the death sentence it planned all along. The all-out war has begun.
The world’s imperialist superpower is again at war with a country that the United Nations reported was already reduced to a “pre-industrial” state by the last Gulf War. Over 200,000 Iraqi men, women and children were slaughtered by the U.S.’s “Desert Storm” terror campaign. Iraq then had 1.5 million of its people killed by malnutrition and preventable diseases as a result of the UN’s “peaceful” sanctions. Now, the most advanced technology capitalism has produced is being used to obliterate many thousands more. And this slaughter is being conducted in the name of ridding the world of weapons of mass destruction!
This is a war for oil and much more. It aims to expand the U.S.’s economic and military might against imperialist rivals like Germany, Russia and France. Most importantly, the U.S. seeks to strengthen its power in the face of inevitably rising mass struggles by the workers and poor of the world, whose potential to overthrow the capitalist system in socialist revolutions is the only real alternative to imperialist wars.
It is the internationalist duty of all to come to the defense of the Iraqi masses against the U.S.’s bloody war. But it is also an elementary act of self-defense for the U.S. working class. The war will strengthen the ruling class in its relatively more “peaceful” economic war against the working class and poor at home. The cost of war will be used as an excuse for further attacks on our standard of living, and appeals to patriotism will be used against our strikes and protest struggles. The anti-Arab racism whipped up by the ruling class after September 11 and intensified by the current slaughter not only means the harassment, jailing and deportation of thousands of immigrants, but also increased racism against all people of color in the U.S.
Revolutionary communists don’t just condemn the current war; we openly declare that the U.S. working class, with the workers of the world, have a side to take -- for the defense of Iraq and for the defeat of U.S. imperialism! We don’t echo pacifist bleating against war in general, but call for a class war against imperialism.
One of the worst illusions spread by much of the current leadership of the anti-war movement regards the United Nations. For months the U.S. went through the motions of trying to get a majority on the U.N. Security Council to back their war against Iraq. France, as well as Germany, Russia and other countries, blocked these moves. The idea was promoted that U.N. weapons inspections offered a peaceful solution.
This bolstered illusions among some that the U.N. and the “anti-war” positions of these nations represented some alternative to war. At anti-war demonstrations some chanted “Vive la France” and called for support to the U.N. These illusions are inexcusable. The U.N. provided its fig leaf to the first Gulf War slaughter and then enforced the murderous economic sanctions against Iraq. The U.N. declared that only the imperialist powers can be armed with “weapons of mass destruction” and that the neo-colonial countries, beginning with Iraq, must be disarmed. This only prepares the way for the imperialists to invade and re-colonize the nations of the “Third World” as the U.S. is now doing in Iraq.
Most importantly, the “anti-war” imperialists haven’t done anything to inconvenience the U.S.’s invasion now that it has begun. France has granted the U.S. airforce the right to fly through its airspace on way to bombarding Iraq, and Germany is even letting the U.S. use its airbases!
The U.N.’s bloody role in preparing the current war confirms what Marxists have always said -- it is a “thieves kitchen,” a forum where representatives of the world’s ruling classes, dominated by the imperialists in the Security Council, try to mutually decide how they will rule the world. Germany, France and Russia have their own ongoing history of imperialist exploitation and bloody oppression. Indeed, Russia is still conducting its bloodbath in Chechnya. These powers opposed the U.S.’s war because expanded U.S. economic might through control of Iraq’s oil fields will greatly weaken their position in the world economy and specifically threaten their investments in Iraq. They, like other ruling classes, also fear the U.S. invasion will trigger greater anti-imperialist mass struggles in the Middle East and around the world. Their acquiescence to the U.S. war makes clear that they were never concerned for the catastrophic loss of life involved. Their highest concern is the maintenance of the imperialist system and their power in it.
Much is made of the murderous and lying cabal of right-wing ideologues who currently reside in the White House and who planned the current invasion of Iraq long ago. But the overwhelming majority of Democratic politicians support the war and only complain that more efforts should have been made to win U.N. backing for it. With this bunch of murderous and lying bastards, the capitalist ruling class has the leadership it needs. This war corresponds to the deepest needs of the capitalist system in general, and to the immediate needs of the U.S. capitalists in particular.
The key division in the world is between the capitalists and the masses of workers they exploit. But 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 superpowers 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. From the refusal of the Palestinian masses to surrender in the face of U.S.-backed Israeli terror, to the mass struggles that overthrew the pro-U.S./International Monetary Fund government of Argentina in 2001 and are flaring up again, the masses of workers and poor continue to launch powerful struggles.
Today, profit-making around the world is low overall and falling. The world is approaching a depression more severe than that of the 1930s. This profit crisis has been sweeping the globe over the last two decades, breaking out first in the weaker national economies and moving toward the most powerful. The same capitalist economic crisis that underlay the collapse of the Stalinist fake-communist (really state-run capitalist) economies of Russia and East Europe in the late 1980s drove the collapse of South Asian economies and the further deterioration of the Latin American countries in the 1990s. Now even the imperialist countries of Western Europe and Japan are in a slump. The U.S. alone has so far avoided collapse thanks to its super-exploitation of the neo-colonial world’s cheap resources and labor and its enforcement of massive debt repayments, as well as by attacks on the working class’s standard of living at home. But the U.S. ruling class knows it is teetering on the edge.
Under these conditions the imperialists must intensify their exploitation of the working class at home and abroad. Less able to afford concessions to popular protests in the “Third World,” the ruling classes of the neo-colonies are forced to surrender any dreams of expanding their own power and obediently act as servants of imperialism. Thus, Iraq’s Saddam Hussein, and before him Panama’s Manuel Noriega and Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic, were all loyal servants of U.S. imperialism who got out of line and were brutally punished.
At the same time, the imperialists must enforce and try to expand their domination of sections of the world economy and weaken their rivals. Thus for all their talk of “free trade,” the world is increasingly divided between military alliances and trade agreements dominated by this or that imperialist power. The U.S. imperialist ruling class sits atop this system as its lone superpower. With its war against Iraq, the U.S. imperialists are trying to press their advantage against their rivals.
The Middle East is of particular concern to the imperialists. Its oil wealth is crucial to the world economy, but has given its local ruling classes leverage against the imperialists to determine oil prices and demand economic partnerships rather than total foreign control and ownership. Imperialism’s rapacious exploitation, and in particular its support for Israel’s brutal colonial rule over the Palestinians, continues to fuel mass struggles. These struggles sometimes pressure the local Arab rulers, every one of them brutal servants of imperialism, to adopt nominally anti-imperialist positions for fear of mass revolts. The U.S. invasion of Iraq aims at sending a message to the other Arab ruling classes that imperialism will not tolerate any challenge to its power. Indeed, the current war will provide the U.S. with a beachhead from which to threaten the surrounding states, particularly Iran.
Washington’s war has nothing to do with its professed aim of bringing freedom to the masses of the Middle East. This can clearly be seen with the fate of the Kurds, who with the Palestinians are among the most oppressed people of the world. Washington has declared that it is dedicated to the maintenance of Iraq’s borders and will not tolerate the creation of a separate Kurdish state. At the end of the last Gulf War, when the Kurds in the North of Iraq rose up against Baghdad, Washington allowed Saddam to slaughter them. Since then the U.S. has enforced a no-fly zone in the North to “protect the Kurds from Iraqi bombings.” But it has allowed the Turkish airforce to regularly fly across the border to bomb Kurdish villages, and has not raised a peep of protest while Turkey butchers the Kurds within its borders. Far from ushering in new freedoms, the U.S. means to enforce a stricter imperial slavery on the masses of the Middle East and beyond.
The U.S.’s moves to tighten its grip on the Middle East are not just aimed against the masses and local Arab rulers. 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. But the U.S. already produces most of the oil it uses. A tightened chokehold on world oil supplies will give the U.S. an even more powerful economic weapon with which to dominate its more oil-dependent imperialist competitors in West Europe (particularly Germany) and Japan, as well as political allies/rivals like Russia and China. Hence France, Germany and Russia’s opposition to Washington’s war, as well as Britain’s craven support for the U.S. to strengthen its hand against its European rivals.
The imperialists’ greatest fear is that this intensifying exploitation and oppression will provoke massive rebellions by the working class. Imperialism thus relies on intimidating the masses with the threat of overwhelming military force. The September 11 attacks challenged U.S. imperialism’s claim to be all-powerful and thus greatly destabilized the system. Right after the terrorist attacks 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 capture the top Taliban or al Qaeda leadership. By invading Iraq, the U.S. plans to send the message to the masses of the world that it has the power and will to smash even bigger enemies without regard for diplomacy or international law.
The various Arab ruling classes fear that the U.S. war against Iraq will trigger an explosion of mass struggle that could topple them from power. This has forced some to adopt nominally anti-war stances. For example, the government of Egypt has allowed some government-sponsored anti-war demonstrations, while arresting, imprisoning and torturing organizers of unsanctioned protests. They are terrified of a popular uprising. As Hamdy el-Sayed, a member of the ruling National Democratic Party admitted:
We are extremely worried about the reaction of people on the day America starts bombing the Iraqi people. Maybe people will try to express anger at American actions, but they are in such a state of disappointment and resentment that they may also express anger against rising prices and the cost of living. It might be an opportunity to mix everything together. That’s what everyone is worried about. (New York Times, March 12)
Washington’s response is that if the Arab dictators don’t crack down hard enough on the masses, the U.S. will. But the perspective of explosive struggles against exploitation joining with anti-imperialist protest is a guide for all the world’s workers, including in the U.S.
The same capitalist ruling class that is currently carpet-bombing Iraq is busy at home in the U.S. devastating the lives of millions by comparatively more peaceful means. The capitalists are making the working class pay for their falling profits with mass layoffs, lower wages, cuts to health care and education, and more. The ruling class hopes that another wave of nationalist hysteria will unite workers behind them and avert strikes and other “unpatriotic” struggles. To divide and intimidate the masses, the ruling class has turned to its trusted weapon of racism. Immigration cops have been unleashed on Arabs, Central Asians and Muslims, with thousands harassed, jailed and deported without cause. And the new legitimacy of “racial profiling” by cops has meant a rise in police brutality against Blacks and Latinos. In all these ways, Washington’s war on Iraq serves the domestic interests of capitalism as well.
According to the politicians and preachers, God blesses America. They can keep their patriotic crap. America is the bloodiest empire in history. It rules a hell on earth of exploitation for billions of workers and poor across the globe, enforced by bribery, torture and war. It is the duty of every working class internationalist to declare war on America’s bloody imperialist ruling class.
In the U.S. war against Iraq we stand for the defeat of the U.S. This principled position expresses our real solidarity with the people of Iraq and all the neo-colonial world in their struggle against imperialism. It recognizes that the American working class’s main enemy is its own ruling class. The defeat of U.S. imperialism will not only be a huge victory for the masses of the “Third World,” but also greatly weaken the capitalists in the face of our class struggle at home.
This does not mean that we give the slightest political support to Iraq’s brutal dictator Saddam Hussein. Hussein came to power in a U.S.-backed coup and loyally served Washington as its local enforcer until his attempt to expand his own power by invading Kuwait got in the way of imperialism’s aims. Only by standing with the neo-colonial world’s workers and poor against imperialism can the working class in the U.S. and other imperialist countries aid their struggle to overthrow the local dictators who stand over them.
Given the balance of military forces. the U.S. does not face an immediate threat of defeat. But the mass protests and other anti-war actions around the world could grow into a force that could do just that. A focal point for this struggle is Britain, where mass protests have the very real potential to lead to the downfall of the government of U.S. lapdog Tony Blair. The toppling of Blair could show the masses around the world that they have far greater power than they realize and thus inspire even bigger protests. Similarly, explosions of struggle by the Arab masses against their pro-imperialist dictatorships’ acquiescence to the U.S. war could break open the prison-system of states the imperialists rely on to dominate the Middle East.
Already millions around the world are protesting the war. In many cases protests are led by liberal pro-capitalist forces who oppose the war because they fear it will destabilize the system. But importantly, the working class in a number of countries is beginning to take independent action, with militancy from the ranks pressuring unions to organize mass protests and strikes. Millions of workers in Spain, Germany, Italy and Switzerland struck briefly to protest the moves toward war, and a general strike against the war took place in Greece. In Italy in particular the unions have taken the lead, organizing protests of hundreds of thousands and conducting a short general strike in response to the start of the war, with more planned. In Scotland, railroad workers have refused to transport military equipment to NATO bases.
In the U.S., the working class is divided in its attitudes toward the war. A majority have probably been convinced to support it with the idea that a strong America will represent some protection of their interests. But large numbers already oppose the war, a great sign considering the war has only just started. This opposition will grow if the war drags on.
Massive and inspiring protests continue to take place in cities across the country. But the anti-war movement in the U.S. is dominated and divided by several bureaucratic coalitions. While these groups are mostly led and staffed by self-proclaimed radicals and even socialists, they are all dedicated to keeping the movement safe for Democratic politicians and other pro-capitalist liberals.
The United For Peace and Justice (UFPJ) coalition has begun putting up red, white and blue billboards proclaiming that “Peace is Patriotic.” Thus they openly declare that their opposition to the war is in the interests of continued U.S. world domination.
The Not In Our Name (NION) and International ANSWER coalitions have a more radical appeal, dominated as they are by the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) and the Workers World Party (WWP) respectively. But they limit the protests to opposing the war rather than taking the side of Iraq and other victims of imperialism and calling for the defeat of the U.S.
Revolutionaries do not fight to artificially exclude liberals from the movement or demand that everyone agree on the need to defeat U.S. imperialism. The movement need only agree on the need to take action against the war, with all involved having the right to communicate their different ideas. Thus we participate in demonstrations with liberal politicians while making every effort to expose their pro-imperialist role. But the leaders of NION and ANSWER make sure such criticisms are never made from their platform. This is a life and death question. If the war starts to go badly for the U.S., liberal domination of the movement will allow it to be used to pressure for an end to the war to save U.S. imperialism from defeat and stabilize the system. This is exactly what the liberals did to the movement against the Vietnam war, allowing imperialism to survive that defeat and recover to conduct new atrocities.
Revolutionaries also recognize the middle-class dominated protest movements do not have the power to end the war. Only the working class can defeat this war because it alone has the social power to shut the economy down. As death row inmate and political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal recently wrote:
Demonstrations are powerful indicators of popular consciousness, but is it enough when the State is profoundly undemocratic, and driven by other forces?
The answer may lie in that little-used social resource of union power. The recent statement of the AFL-CIO ... against the war ... was all but dismissed by the Bush Regime. What would happen, however, if a general strike were called among all member unions, against this imminent war?
It may take such measures to begin to put the dogs of war back in their cages ...(Bush to World: Drop Dead, March 3)
Mumia’s right, and the League for the Revolutionary Party is unique for consistently promoting the idea that the working class should unite in general strikes to win its struggles. But the American working class is obviously a long way from being convinced of the need for such action against the war. Revolutionaries spread the idea of such strike action while working to build mass protests that can influence working class consciousness about the war. Many unions have issued statements against the war and in favor of protests, but most have done little to turn these words into action. Revolutionaries look to join all opponents of the war in the unions to fight for real efforts by the unions to convince their members of the need to fight the war and to mobilize the union’s resources to build anti-war protests and other actions.
Also, the racist nature of the war against Iraq and the attacks on Middle Eastern and Central Asian immigrants that are part of the supposed “war on terrorism” provide an opportunity to mobilize some of the most oppressed sections of the working class in the struggle against the war. There have been a number of demonstrations against the anti-immigrant witch-hunt, including a powerful protest of thousands of Iranians in Los Angeles that forced the government to at least temporarily back down from its attacks.
But the road to mass independent working-class action and strikes against war will most likely begin with promoting working-class struggle against the capitalist attacks at home -- layoffs, budget cuts and rising racism. The wave of ruling class-sponsored patriotism must be challenged and the working class encouraged to fight back against the bosses’ one-sided class war. Mass working-class struggle against the capitalist attacks at home can deepen workers’ class hatred of their rulers and show them the power their class has when it is united in struggle. This, in turn, can win more and more workers to the struggle against the war.
However, revolutionaries do not aim to add the power of the working class to the current liberal-dominated anti-war movement. Rather, we fight for working-class leadership of the struggle against the war. Because the working class has no essential interest in maintaining the capitalist system that exploits it, it has a fundamental interest in struggling against imperialism. While the pro-capitalist liberals work to limit the movement from threatening the system, mass working-class struggles can really challenge the system behind the war.
Mass working-class struggle can defeat the capitalists’ economic attacks and imperialist war. Through such struggles the working class will come to see that it has the power to not just beat back these attacks, but to overthrow the whole capitalist system and build a world free of exploitation, oppression and war.
In fact capitalism has, in its own brutal way, laid the basis for its own overthrow. In earlier times, class society was the unavoidable result of scarcity, meaning that the economies of the time could not produce enough of the necessities of human for all the population. But 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 satisfy 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 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. With no fundamental interest in maintaining the system, the working class not only has the power to overthrow capitalism, but its life conditions and struggle encourage the communist class consciousness that explains way forward. 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 communist party to lead the struggle. The liberals and their left-wing assistants hold back mass struggles from challenging the system. The working class needs a revolutionary leadership fighting to expose these misleaders -- in the anti-war movement, in the unions and every other struggle -- in order to unleash the power of the working class and lead it to revolution.
The League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP), with our comrades abroad in the Communist Organization for the Fourth International (COFI), is 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.