Drawing the Class Line – What Program to Defeat the War?Drive U.S. Imperialists Out of Iraq!
West Coast longshore union contingent marches in San Francisco, 20 March 2004.
Mobilize workers power to protest repression, boycott military goods, strike
against the war! (Internationalist photo)
JULY 15 – United States imperialism has dug itself into a big hole in Iraq, and keeps digging deeper. Try as it might, the Pentagon has been unable to defeat the growing insurgency, and each new puppet government is as discredited and impotent as its predecessor. After the phony gunpoint “elections” on January 30, Washington trumpeted a “victory for democracy.” Yet the rigged vote was boycotted by virtually the entire Sunni Muslim population, which correctly saw it as an attempt by the occupiers to establish a Shiite ascendancy.
Three months later, after weeks of wrangling between Shiite and Kurdish politicians, at the end of April a “government” was proclaimed. The insurgents promptly responded with a wave of attacks. A Pentagon report revealed that in the nine months ending in March 2005, there were 15,527 attacks against “Coalition forces” throughout Iraq – roughly 60 a day (Newsweek, 11 May). Since then the attacks have escalated. Over the last year 1,500 Iraqi military recruits, troops and police have been killed. The number of American and “allied” dead since the supposed end of combat in Iraq two years ago is now close to 2,000. Meanwhile, the brutal colonial occupiers have massacred tens of thousands of Iraqis.
The Pentagon is worried that it can’t maintain current troop levels indefinitely. Already key units of the U.S. regular Army, Navy and Marines are on their second Iraq deployment and stretched to the breaking point. Many have been kept in Iraq by “stop-loss” orders, even though their period of enlistment was up. National Guard and Reserve units have been called up repeatedly, causing bitter complaints from spouses and employers about the toll of year-long deployments. “By next fall, we’ll have expended our ability to use National Guard brigades as one of the principal forces,” reported retired Army commander Barry McCaffrey, adding: “We’re reaching the bottom of the barrel.” The chief of the Army Reserve, Lt. Gen. James R. Helmly, is even blunter, saying the Reserve is “rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken’ force” (New York Times, 11 July).
As the casualties mount, war weariness has been growing in the U.S. population. Since last fall, a steady majority in opinion polls say that it was “not worth going to war in Iraq.” This is coupled with widespread distrust of the administrati1on, including among those who voted for Bush. While Bush waves aside poll numbers, his handlers have been getting worried. So on June 28, Bush went to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, home of the 82nd Airborne Division and Army Special Operation forces, to stage a pro-war rally. But the assembled troops ignored the applause lines, sat on their hands and only clapped once before the end of their commander in chief’s speech.
the up to 300,000 demonstrators at April 9 Baghdad demonstration
demanding U.S. get out of Iraq.
The Iraq war is clearly unpopular, but that hasn’t stopped it. So what can be done? The “strategy” of the overwhelming majority of the left is to build an ever-larger antiwar movement. The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March-April 2003 provoked huge peace marches that brought millions of people into the streets worldwide to protest. In New York City, 500,000 protested a month before the war began, and 200,000 marched against the invasion while it was going on. Half a million came out to protest the Republican National Convention last August. On May 1, the international workers day, there was another round of antiwar protests around the globe. Yet these demonstrations have not even slowed down the slaughter.
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International warn that pacifist parades will not and cannot stop an imperialist war machine hell-bent on conquest. The capitalist warmongers can be defeated, by mobilizing the power of the international working class. Iraq rebels have already shown that the Pentagon’s military machine is not all-powerful, despite its efforts to “shock and awe” that country into surrender. But the imperialists must be defeated from within. American workers are also targeted by this bosses’ war, as their union gains are ripped up, pensions slashed and wages keep falling and jobs keep disappearing for more than three decades. Civil liberties in the imperialist citadels are under all-sided attack as well, from the USA PATRIOT Act to the pervasive “security” mania.
The answer is not impotent peace parades but bringing in the heavy battalions of labor. Already, the bulk of the union movement is on record opposed to the war, although these paper resolutions are coupled with “social-patriotic” appeals to “support our troops by bringing them home,” for “jobs not war,” and the like. Instead, what’s needed is concrete action linking opposition to the imperialist war to an internationalist class fight against the capitalist rulers who destroy people’s livelihoods and lay waste to entire countries in order to maximize their obscene profits and U.S. world domination.
What’s standing in the way of this perspective is the pro-capitalist labor bureaucracy, whose very reason for existence is to keep workers’ struggles in check, and the popular-front organizers of the antiwar movement who seek to chain opposition to the war to political support for the Democrats or some other capitalist party or politician. Above all, it is necessary to forge a leadership with the revolutionary program and determination to mobilize the power of the working class in struggle at the head of all the oppressed, breaking with the twin parties of American capitalism to build a workers party that fights for international socialist revolution.
Rising Bourgeois Defeatism Over Iraq War
“Don’t Be Fooled by the Spin on Iraq: The US Is Failing – and Hatred of the Occupation Greater Than Ever,” wrote Jonathan Steele in the London Guardian (13 April).
While the capitalist press follows the wheeling and dealing of the corrupt Iraqi exile politicians and clerical zealots who rode into Iraq on the back of U.S. tanks, it barely reports the depth of opposition to the occupation throughout Iraqi society. On April 9, marking the second anniversary of the U.S. taking of Baghdad, a huge demonstration in the Iraqi capital demanded that the occupiers get out. “No, no to America! No, no to occupation!” they chanted. The Los Angeles Times (10 April) reports that, “Some estimates put the number of protesters at 300,000.” A leading expert on Iraqi Shiites, Juan Cole, remarked: “If it were even half that, these would be the largest popular demonstrations in Iraq since 1958!”
Although sparse media reports described this as a Shiite event, a major Sunni organization, the Association of Muslim Scholars, said its followers also joined the demonstration. Cole reports that in addition, big anti-occupation demonstrations were held that day in Ramadi, a major center of Sunni insurgency, where virtually nobody voted in January, and in the Shiite city of Najaf, while in Baghdad “a small crowd of Iraqi Christians joined in the demonstration.” This undercuts claims in the Western media of an imminent sectarian civil war between Sunnis and Shiites. Similar stirrings of solidarity against the occupiers occurred during the April 2004 siege of Falluja and the subsequent uprising in the Shiite South.
In addition to mass anti-occupation protests, the colonial occupiers are having to fend off an entrenched insurgency. This year the number of car bombings has escalated, with five times as many in the ten weeks from the beginning of March to mid-May as in all of 2004. Although this is largely a guerrilla war of attrition, occasionally the rebels have launched full-scale assaults. In early April, U.S. troops at the Abu Ghraib torture center came under heavy rocket fire by scores of insurgents who kept the jailers pinned down for 12 hours. On April 11, insurgents staged a massed assault on Camp Gannon on the Syrian border.
A number of U.S. officials are now openly talking of civil war. “With security experts reporting that no major road in the country was safe to travel, some Iraq specialists speculated that the Sunni insurgency was effectively encircling the capital and trying to cut it off from the north, south and west,” wrote New York Newsday (12 May). It quoted Pat Lang, former top Near East intelligence official at the Pentagon, saying, “It’s just political rhetoric to say we are not in a civil war. We’ve been in a civil war for a long time.”
By last fall, even as Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry was trying to out-Bush Bush, calling for 40,000 more U.S. troops to Iraq, saner minds among the imperialists were beginning to think about the previously unthinkable. The London Financial Times (10 September 2004) published an editorial headlined, “Time to consider Iraq withdrawal.” An article in the New York Times (26 September) asked “What if America Just Pulled Out?”
Since then, fully half of the second-rate imperialists and U.S. neo-colonies in George Bush’s “coalition of the willing” have grown increasingly unwilling and pulled out of Iraq, including Nicaragua, Spain, Dominican Republic, Honduras, Philippines, Thailand, New Zealand, Hungary, Portugal, Moldova and the Netherlands, as well as the Kingdom of Tonga. Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and Italy have announced the withdrawal of their forces this year.
Even Tony Blair’s Britain is getting shaky. The July 7 bombing of London mass transport that killed more than 50 riders was an act of indiscriminate mass terror, deliberately striking at working people going to their jobs. But far from building support for the government and its “war on terror,” many Londoners were reminded of the far-worse obliteration of Falluja by U.S. and “coalition” troops last year. As with the equally hideous bombing of a commuter train in Madrid in March 2004, the ultimate effect may be to increase already massive popular sentiment to get out of Iraq.
Last fall, talk of pulling out of Iraq was coming from imperialist think tanks and liberal intellectual journals. But similar views are being voiced at the highest levels of the U.S. military/strategic apparatus. In September, a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq was so pessimistic (warning of civil war) that Bush ordered a purge of the entire top echelon of the CIA. Even so, in January CIA analysts said that as a result of the botched war, Iraq had become a “magnet for international terrorist activity.” In early June, several Democrats and Republicans in Congress submitted joint resolutions calling for an “exit strategy” from Iraq. Among them was Walter Jones of North Carolina, a Republican right-winger who gained notoriety by having “French fries” renamed “Freedom fries” in the House cafeterias.
Now it is reported that due to the drain of operations in Iraq, top Pentagon planners may abandon the U.S.’ long-standing “two-war capability” strategic doctrine, since they are far from winning one war in a semicolonial country. And another leaked document from Britain reports that the U.S. may have to drastically draw down its expeditionary force by mid-2006 no matter what conditions are in Iraq.
Antiwar Popular Front
The growing bourgeois defeatism is significant, not only as a sign of the morass the imperialists have gotten into with the Iraq war, but also because this is what the opportunist left wants to hook up with in its “popular-front” antiwar movements. What they are offering to the ruling class is voting cattle to be herded to the polls (which is why mass peace demonstrations disappear like clockwork whenever elections roll around), and to control the protests by keeping them within the safe confines of capitalist politics.
Liberal and reformist “peace” groups seek a different foreign policy for imperialism and different priorities “at home.” Revolutionaries, in contrast, seek to defeat the imperialist system that produces endless war, poverty and racism. The various competing “antiwar coalitions” in the U.S. have endless organizational squabbles, yet at bottom they are politically identical. All have ostensibly socialist groups at their core who organize on a program of purely democratic demands in order to attract the support of bourgeois liberals.
To pull this off, however, they must maintain a certain pretense of radical politics. Otherwise they could easily be outflanked on the left by forces giving voice to the tremendous anger and outrage produced by the barbaric war and occupation of Iraq. Thus every practitioner of antiwar popular-frontism comes up with their own brand of combining pseudo-socialism with actual support for the bourgeoisie. Some are more openly rightist, others have a more leftist veneer. What is absent is the most fundamental question of revolutionary politics: the class line separating the proletariat from the bourgeoisie. Instead, the exploited and oppressed are tied to their class enemy in the name of the “people united” – which means the working people will always be defeated, from Spain to Indonesia to Allende’s Chile and Lula’s Brazil, until they break from the popular front of class collaboration.
In the U.S., the antiwar pop front line-up includes the social-democratic International Socialist Organization (ISO), which leads the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN). When the Stalinoid Workers World Party (WWP) had a divorce last year, they amicably divvied up their assets: WWP kept the International Action Center and set up a new antiwar group, the Troops Out Coalition (TOC), while its exes, the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), took International ANSWER. The liberal Maoists of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) have Not In Our Name (NION). United for Peace and Justice is the home of the red-white-and-blue reformists, led by the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CoC) but also including the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and its alter ego, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA).
The fractured antiwar milieu is currently rent by a debate over a “non-exclusionary peace movement,” meaning which leftist competitors they will exclude while including their own favorite bourgeois ally (Ramsey Clark for the WWP/TONC, Ralph Nader for the ISO/CAN, “antiwar” Congressional Democrats like Dennis Kucinich and Barbara Lee for the UPJ). In recent months the more right-wing outfits have boycotted events initiated by the slightly more left-talking groups. Last year, UPJ refused to join with ANSWER because of WWP’s support for North Korea, this year it boycotted a March 19 protest in New York because it didn’t like the slogan of Iraqis’ “right to resist.” All sides have agreed to demonstrate in Washington, D.C. on September 24, but with two different slogans (“Troops Out Now” vs. “End the War on Iraq”).
For a Revolutionary Program to Fight Imperialist War with Class War
The idea that wars can be stopped by endless peace marches is a democratic illusion, and one that can demoralize opponents of the war if “the movement” dwindles in size (as it has). Contrary to the right-wing “stab-in-the-back” myth that the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam because of “Hanoi Jane” Fonda and hippie peaceniks at home, that war was basically lost on the battlefields of Indochina. The U.S. was driven out, its army was ripped apart by conflicts between officers and soldiers, and its puppet South Vietnamese army collapsed. Even so, the imperialist rulers keep launching new wars: in the 1980s, a proxy war against the Soviets in Afghanistan, the invasion of Grenada, contra war on Nicaragua and the death squad slaughter in El Salvador; in the ’90s, the first war on Iraq (Gulf War), the failed Somalia adventure, the first Yugoslav war (Bosnia) and the second Yugoslav war (Kosovo); since 2000, Afghanistan again, and now Iraq again.
The endless slaughter is caused by an imperialist system that will keep on generating war after war until it is brought down. With the end of the anti-Soviet Cold War, the U.S. imperialists looked around for new targets. The “war on drugs” was always problematic, since from Southeast Asia to Colombia the U.S. was in league with the biggest drug traffickers. Since 9-11, U.S. rulers have been pursuing a “war on terror,” whose purpose is to terrorize the world into submission to American hegemony. Ultimately, the target is Washington’s imperialist allies/rivals in Europe and Japan, as mounting trade war points toward a third world war.
After a century of imperialist-instigated war, mankind is faced with the stark alternative, as Rosa Luxemburg put it 90 years ago, of “socialism or barbarism.” The ugly face of barbarism can be seen in the U.S. expeditionary force that has turned Iraq into a living hell. If the imperialists are not defeated, more and more of the planet will look like the inferno that Iraq is today.
Trotskyists call for workers mobilization to fight the imperialist war with class war. This includes the fight for workers strikes against the war, and for workers to “hot cargo” military goods. A taste of what can be done was given by the railway engineers in Scotland who in January 2003 refused to move a train loaded with munitions bound for Iraq. A month later, Italian railroad workers contacted antiwar and left groups and blocked the rails, attempting to stop trains loaded with war materiel leaving NATO bases bound for the Near East. If a dock strike in the U.S. were to cut off shipments of military supplies to Iraq, even for a short period, the effect would be dramatic. A gauge of how much such a prospect worries the American bourgeoisie was given on 7 April 2003 when police fired shotguns with “less-than-lethal” ammunition at antiwar pickets in the port Oakland, California, wounding six longshoremen and arresting 25.
The Spartacist League’s Workers Vanguard (No. 830) writes that, “occasional phrases to the contrary notwithstanding, the IG has no perspective of fighting to mobilize the proletariat in the U.S. and other imperialist centers to wage class struggle against imperialist war.” The reality is the exact opposite. Despite our limited forces, the Internationalist Group has called for and, where possible, agitated for workers action against the war, such as for the U.S. West Coast ILWU dock union to refuse to ship military cargo. The SL, which used to call for this, dropped it like a hot potato when the government threatened to impose Taft-Hartley sanctions on the ILWU in October 2002 (see our articles “Strike Against Taft-Hartley! Hot-Cargo War Materiel!” and “SL: Hard to Starboard,” in The Internationalist No. 15, January-February 2003). The League for the Fourth International, of which the IG is the U.S. section, also initiated a demonstration at the harbor of Rotterdam, Netherlands, calling on dock workers to halt military cargo.
Workers’ power should be mobilized as well to fight the consequences of the war on the home front, demanding abolition of the USA PATRIOT Act. Numerous local unions and state and city labor councils have passed motions against this police-state measure, but as Congress gears up to renew it and tighten the screws of repression, this opposition should be translated into strike action. The workers movement as a whole should come out to protest the government attempt to take over the East Coast dock union (ILA). Along with the 2002 Maritime Transportation Security Act, pushed particularly by the Democrats, this is part of a “bipartisan” drive to militarize the docks and carry out union-busting in the name of the “war on terror.”
In the face of anti-immigrant racism, including from Democratic Party liberals like Hillary Clinton, the workers movement should bring out its forces to demand full citizenship rights for all immigrants. Attempts by fascists like the Minuteman Project to stage immigrant-bashing provocations and “border patrols” should be swept away by union-based worker/immigrant defense groups, knowing full well that fascist squads who today threaten immigrants will be used tomorrow to break strikes. The Internationalist Group has actively fought to drive military recruiters off campuses, and has called for united-front student-teacher-worker action to run these modern-day slave catchers out of the schools and universities.
A working-class fight against imperialist war includes defending those countries already targeted by the U.S. While on May 1, the UPJ marched in lock-step with Washington calling for “no nukes,” we called to defend the North Korean deformed workers state and semi-colonial Iran and their right to acquire any weapons they require to fend off U.S. imperialism. We also defend the other deformed workers states (China, Cuba and Vietnam) and semi-colonial countries such as Venezuela which are in imperialism’s crosshairs. As opposed to the “U.S. Out Now” crowd with its (implicit or explicit) appeals to what the Stalinists used to call “peace-loving” imperialists, Trotskyists fight not to “bring the boys home” but to drive the imperialists out of Iraq.
As the Internationalist Group wrote in a leaflet distributed at May Day marches in New York:
“We fight the imperialist system which breeds endless wars, racism, poverty and the other scourges that beset the planet. We warn that more Iraqis will be indiscriminately rounded up and thrown into U.S. dungeons to be tortured and killed, that more Iraqi children will die of hunger, that more countries will be invaded, until the warmongers are stopped by a greater power, that wielded by the workers of the world united in revolutionary struggle.
“The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International stand with the German revolutionary socialist Wilhelm Liebknecht, who proclaimed ‘not a penny, not a man’ to the imperialist system. We defend the Iraqi people against the conquerors who have laid waste to their country. We struggle for the defeat of U.S. imperialism, the rapacious ‘sole superpower’ which is by far the greatest threat to working people, the poor and oppressed, and to the future of humanity. Against the twin capitalist war parties, we seek to forge a revolutionary workers party. Following the Bolshevik example of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, the IG/LFI calls for class war against the imperialist war and for internationalist socialist revolution to smash imperialism.” n
To contact the Internationalist Group and the League for the Fourth International, send e-mail to: email@example.com