Defeat U.S. Imperialist War and the Bosses’ War “At Home”!
Why We Fight for
Workers Strikes Against the War
(and the Opportunists Don’t)
IG contingent in New York antiwar march, 18 March 2006. Banner in Spanish reads: “Full Citizenship
for All Immigrants! Forge a Revolutionary Workers Party.” (Photo: Sue Kellogg)
Break with the Democrats –
For a Class-Struggle Workers Party!
The U.S.’ imperialist war against, and colonial occupation of, Iraq and Afghanistan is at a dead end. Despite the vaunted “surge” of U.S. forces in Iraq last spring, bringing troop levels to the highest since the 2003 invasion, attacks by insurgents have not diminished one bit, while the number of Iraqi civilian casualties has increased significantly. In Afghanistan, Taliban forces control large areas in the south. “Public opinion” in the U.S., that measure of the impact of the bourgeois media, has long since turned decisively against the war. In the mid-term elections last November, the Democrats won control of both houses of Congress mainly due to the perception that they would “do something” to end the war. Prominent Republican Senators have deserted President George Bush. Staff officers at the Combined Arms Center debate where the U.S. went wrong on Iraq; colonels accuse their superiors of a “failure of generalship” for not standing up to Bush and his war secretary Donald Rumsfeld. Bourgeois defeatism is rampant, and yet … the war keeps going on. No end in sight. No “light at the end of the tunnel.” No exit.
Early this year, we published a tabloid special issue of The Internationalist (27 January) headlined: “Don’t Beg Congress! Defeat U.S. War on Iraq!” and calling “For Workers Strikes Against the War!” Yet the entire activity of the antiwar movement has consisted precisely of seeking to pressure the Democratic Party into opposing the war on Iraq. The slogans “Bring the (or “Our”) Troops Home,” and “Money for Jobs (Books, Health Care, etc.) Not War,” are geared to appeal to Congress to oppose the war on budgetary or other grounds acceptable to capitalist politicians. Forget it. The Democrats voted for war powers resolutions on Afghanistan and Iraq, and have voted over and over for the military budget, sometimes adding billions to the request from the Republican administration. Leading Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards all have promised to keep U.S. troops in Iraq or in the region to defend “U.S. interests.” But we seek to defeat the imperialist war and the war on working people, immigrants, minorities and civil liberties “at home” through militant workers action.
Last month, the administration issued its interim “national assessment” of the situation in Iraq. Having previously replaced its proclamation of “victory” and “mission accomplished” with a “way forward,” the White House now added the sucker bait of “gradual reductions” in U.S. forces starting next spring. In fact, independently of domestic opposition to the war, the Pentagon will have to start cutting back units on the battlefield. But at the same time, when Bush’s Iraq commander General David Petraeus testified before Congress, Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi summed up his testimony saying it sounded like “a 10-year, at least, commitment to an open-ended presence and war” (New York Times, 12 September). A couple of days later in a televised speech to the nation, Bush announced that “success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency,” and that Iraq must have “an enduring relationship with America.” Actually, Bush has said several times that he wants a “Korea model,” in other words a U.S. presence in Iraq lasting at least half a century.
Various Democratic Party politicians, starry-eyed liberals and even gullible leftists have argued that given the level of opposition to the Iraq war at all levels of American society, the U.S. will eventually have to get out. But Bush, the “chicken hawk” who hid out in the Air National Guard to avoid duty in Vietnam, now denounces the U.S. withdrawal from Indochina. This government, which took power in what amounted to a judicial coup d’état, is not about to walk away from its Iraq “debacle.” Instead, Bush wants to escalate, by gearing up for war on Iran. As demented as this may be, with U.S. forces already stretched to the breaking point, military casualties in many units approaching levels where they become inoperable, top Pentagon officials report that they have been ordered to prepare battle plans for bombing hundreds of Iranian sites, including with “tactical” nuclear weapons.
Bush just spelled out what this means by threatening a nuclear “World War III” against Iran. Even though the former top U.S. Near East commander General John Abizaid stated recently that “there are ways to live with a nuclear Iran,” Bush has declared that he would never “tolerate” this. Those who are “interested in avoiding World War III,” he said at a news conference, had better join in “preventing them [the Iranians] from having the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon” (New York Times, 18 October). Why? Because if Tehran does develop atomic weapons it would at least cause the U.S. to hesitate before attacking it, as North Korea has shown. If the U.S. does attack Iran, in addition to throwing the entire Near East into turmoil it would put Washington on a collision course with Russia. While White House officials brandish the argument that a nuclear-armed Iran might attack Israel, the well-known fact is that Israel has hundreds of nuclear weapons and is ready to use them, while no one claims that Iran has or is close to achieving nuclear weapons capability.
Even under the bogus Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has the perfect right to develop nuclear power (as it says it is doing). And in any case, we defend Iran and its right to nuclear or any other kind of weapons to defend itself against the nuclear-armed imperialists in partnership with the Zionist madmen. From the outset, even before the Iraq invasion, we have warned that the U.S. war pointed to a world conflagration: “Pentagon’s ‘First Strike’ Strategy: Careening Toward World War III” we wrote in a headline in The Internationalist No. 14 (September-October 2002). The real aim of U.S. imperialism was not simply to topple Saddam Hussein, under whatever pretext, but to cement U.S. hegemony as the global “superpower.” Washington wants the oil not for domestic consumption (the U.S. imports very little from the Near East), but in order to control oil supplies to its imperialist rivals in Europe and Japan. Thus the Near East wars, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Israel/Palestine, could serve as a precursor to World War III, as the 1908-13 Balkan Wars heralded the first imperialist world war and the wars in Spain and Ethiopia led to World War II.
The Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International call not just for U.S. withdrawal, which would just lead to the next war as it has repeatedly over the last century, but to drive the imperialist occupiers out of Iraq and Afghanistan and to defeat U.S. imperialism’s wars through international socialist revolution. No “antiwar movement” ever stopped an imperialist war, as we have insisted. The only successful struggle against imperialist war was by the Bolsheviks in the 1917 October Revolution, which pulled Russia out of World War I. Class-conscious workers must stand with the victims of imperialist attack, defending Iraq and Afghanistan during the invasions and taking the side of those resisting the colonial occupation forces, even as we politically oppose all the Islamic fundamentalist and Arab or Iraqi bourgeois nationalists. We seek to mobilize the power of the workers movement in sharp class struggle, including workers strikes against the war and “hot cargoing” war material. And we call to break with the Democratic Party of war and racism, to build a revolutionary workers party.
Antiwar Movement Flounders
trade unionists of the CGIL federation and antiwar activists stop NATO
war train outside Vicenza, in February 2002.
Leading up to the Iraq war, millions marched in Western capitals and other large cities to protest the impending invasion. In New York City, half a million people were in the streets on 15 February 2003. Even a year later, hundreds of thousands marched against the war. But today, after hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed (and several thousand U.S. soldiers are dead and many more gravely injured), the antiwar movement is at loose ends. The September 2007 marches in Washington, D.C. were far smaller than previous peace parades, and the upcoming regional actions come after Congress has already voted the latest “emergency” war budget. Why? An obvious reason is that the various peace “coalitions” are each doing their own thing, so that this fall there have been national marches on September 15 and 29, and others scheduled for October 27. But more basically, the competing coalitions are based on appealing to ruling-class politicians, the Democratic Party in particular, and the fact that after all is said and done the Democrats continue to back the war has produced widespread demoralization among antiwar demonstrators.
For the past five years, various opportunist socialist groups have busily built and rebuilt the “anti-war movement,” consisting of occasional peace marches to demand that the imperialist government end the war. The reformist organizations that lead the major peace groups are pretending that it’s ever onward and upward. The Workers World Party (WWP), which directs the Troops Out Now Coalition (TONC), effused over the latest, very modestly sized and very ordinary peace parades, as “Anti-War Marches of a New Type” (Workers World, 11 October). Their former comrades in the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), who now lead International ANSWER, exult: “we are waking to a new morning of action, resistance and militant struggle…. Sept. 15 in Washington, D.C. will be remembered as historically relevant if it emerges as a step toward an even greater development” (Liberation, 11 October).
While WWP and PSL are heirs of the Stalinoid current led by the late Sam Marcy and occasionally put on radical airs (while parading Democratic speakers on their platforms), the arch-reformist Internationalist Socialist Organization (ISO) is an utterly social-democratic outfit. Yet the ISO, which leads the Campus Antiwar Network (CAN), has preferred to tail along after the larger coalitions. Lately, it has adopted a critical posture, asking: “Why is the antiwar movement so weak?” (Socialist Worker, 12 October). After blaming “the general political period,” it complains of ANSWER’s “top-down methods” and avers that the United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) “makes the movement hostage to the politicians.” Surprise, surprise. The UFPJ, a condominium of the Committees of Correspondence for Socialism (CoC) and the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), from which the CoC split in the mid-1980s, are past masters at tying the working class and whatever movement they are currently building to the Democratic Party. It’s called the popular front.
The ISO goes so far as to say that “‘Out now’ is an appropriate slogan for an antiwar protest, but this message can easily become diluted in the context of today’s do-nothing ‘antiwar’ Democrats” (Socialist Worker, 19 October). Yet the ISO has repeatedly raised the call for “Out now” in antiwar marches and meetings with Democratic Party politicians. Moreover, at recent demonstrations ISO activists chanted, “Stop the funding, stop the war, What the hell is Congress for?” Internationalist Group marchers responded that Congress was for imperialist war!
The ISO says that “the key” to overcoming the “weakness” of the antiwar movement is “building a strong grassroots movement, independent of both the Democrats and Republicans, with the power to force the politicians of both parties to abandon their support for the war.” So while supposedly remaining “independent” of the leading capitalist parties (and running the capitalist red-white-and-blue Green candidate Ralph Nader for president), its whole aim is to build a “grassroots movement” that could somehow convince the capitalist politicians to oppose their imperialist war! This is pure reformist illusion. The U.S. bourgeoisie was driven out of Vietnam by the Vietnamese and it will not abandon the strategic Near East unless forced to do so by catastrophic losses on the battlefield and the mobilization of the power of the working class internationally.
The fact is that all of these groups, despite claiming the legacy of the Marxism, have abandoned the core of its revolutionary logic. Imperialist war is not the policy of one administration or party that can be changed by pressure campaigns, but the bloody expression of the rivalries among the “great powers” to decide who shall lord it over the colonial and semi-colonial slaves. In this imperialist war, which is a war to enslave Iraq and Afghanistan and maintain U.S. imperialism’s domination of the planet, the question for the workers is not how to end the war and achieve “peace” between Washington and whatever oppressed nation it is attacking, but how to defeat the imperialist warmongers once and for all through a socialist revolution.
The Struggle for Workers Strikes Against the War
Since well before the launching of the Iraq invasion, the Internationalist Group and League for the Fourth International have been calling for working-class action against the war. We called for this in 1998 and 1999 when Democrat Bill Clinton bombed Iraq and attacked Yugoslavia, and again in 2001 when Bush invaded Afghanistan. In the run-up to the Iraq war, we agitated for workers to refuse to handle military goods, as well as for strike action against the impending war. We raised these demands with West Coast longshore workers in the United States when they were locked out by the employers. In February 2003, the LFI organized a worker/immigrant demonstration on the docks in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. We also highlighted in our press when train drivers in Scotland refused to move a munitions train bound for the Persian Gulf in January 2003, and when Italian railroad workers joined with peace demonstrators trying to block the rails as NATO jeeps and tanks were being transported to the ports to be shipped to Kuwait.
These incidents showed that workers action against imperialist war is possible. But they are a small example of what has occurred in the past. During World War I, German workers repeatedly engaged in strike action against the imperialist slaughter. When revolutionary socialist (and later Communist) leader Karl Liebknecht was being tried (and was then sent to prison) for daring to vote against the war budget and agitate against the war, in June 1916 some 55,000 tool and die makers in the big Berlin factories suddenly shut down their machines. The news spread through the plants like wildfire, “The machine workers are striking for Liebknecht.” And this was a first: the German working class had never engaged in a political mass strike before. The majority Social Democrats (SPD) supported the war and did everything possible to sabotage such working-class protest action. But militant union activists carefully prepared the strikes in the underground, and later formed the Revolutionary Shop Stewards (Revolutionäre Obleute) which organized the later strike actions.
A second wave of strikes occurred in April 1917, under the influence of the Russian February Revolution and touched off by a cut in bread rations. In Leipzig, more than 10,000 workers struck and raised a series of political demands, including for a peace without annexations, the abolition of wartime censorship, lifting of the state of siege, an end to labor conscription, freeing political prisoners, and universal suffrage (the right to vote) at all levels. In Berlin, striking workers called for German workers to take up the example of their Russian comrades. By now an Independent Social-Democratic Party (USPD) had split from the pro-war SPD and adopted a pacifist program. But while many in the Independent ranks looked to Russia, the USPD leaders feared a revolution. They and the metal workers union leaders called off the strikes after one day. Even so, more than 50,000 workers continued the strike and denounced their leaders’ betrayal.
German workers strike
against imperialist world war, January 1918.
A third wave of strikes took place in January 1918, this time influenced by the victorious Bolsheviks’ offer to negotiate peace at Brest-Litovsk. This time the numbers had grown enormously, with 400,000 striking in Berlin on the first day, and then swelling to half a million. There was civil war in the air. A leader of the Spartakusbund and future German Communist Leo Jogiches commented, “Like a revolutionary breeze, a certain readiness, but no one knew what to do.” The German Spartakists “emphasized that the leadership in the struggles should be placed in the hands of elected workers’ councils, and that the revolutionaries should win over the soldiers” (Pierre Broué, The German Revolution, 1917-1923 [Brill, 2005]). Once again, the SPD and USPD leaders managed to undercut the strikes. Some 50,000 workers were drafted into the military as punishment. Nevertheless, within a few months, sailors rose up in the Baltic port of Kiel and the German Revolution of November 1918 began. Yet it ended in a defeat with the bloody repression of the Spartakist uprising of January 1919, and the assassination of Communist leaders Liebknecht, Luxemburg and Jogiches on the orders of the SPD government.
The German workers’ strikes prepared the way for revolution and imperial Germany’s capitulation in the war. Yet the recounting of this history underscores that by themselves, strikes are not enough. The lack of a seasoned revolutionary leadership meant that at every turn the reformist SPD and centrist USPD misleaders were able to divert the struggle. Today, the reformist leaders of the class-collaborationist antiwar coalitions (WWP, PSL, ISO, CoC, CPUSA) may give lip service to labor as one more “constituency” as they build their “popular front” with the bourgeois “dove” politicians. Others, centrists, such as the Spartacist League, once called for workers strikes against the war and “hot cargoing” military cargo, but then dropped these demands like hot potatoes as soon as they were posed concretely over Iraq (see “SL: Hard to Starboard,” The Internationalist No. 15, January-February 2003). They claim that such actions are either (a) nothing but a big political demonstration, or (b) tantamount to revolution, and in any case such calls don’t find “resonance” in the working class. Maybe they need a resonator. German workers had no tradition of mass political strikes either, until they held the first walkout.
As we struggle for workers strikes against the war in the U.S., we must wage a political battle to break from the Democratic Party (and all capitalist parties) and undertake the forging of a class-struggle workers party. Such a party must be built by combating the illusions spread by the popular-front antiwar movement in the possibility of pressuring the Democrats to end the war. Those who seek to build a revolutionary workers party must also confront head-on the chauvinist calls to “support our troops,” and call openly for the defeat of “our own” imperialist rulers. Such a party must be founded on an internationalist program defending the Afghan and Iraqi peoples under the guns of U.S. imperialism, as well as the Palestinians rising up against Israeli Zionist colonial rule.
Today there is growing frustration among those who would put an end to the seemingly never-ending slaughter in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their frustration is a direct result of the subordination of the “antiwar movement” to the Democrats and the realization that they, like the Republicans, are a war party. This realization can lead to demoralization, as it has in recent months, or it can lead to radicalization. The task of building revolutionary leadership on a class program is key. n
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