Detroit Workers' Voice #34

. The following article is from Detroit Workers' Voice #34, January 10, 2003, which is published by the Detroit Marxist-Leninist Study Group. Reprinted in Communist Voice, May 20, 2003.

Anti-imperialism and
the anti-war movement


. Under the banner of the so-called "war on terrorism", Bush is trying to tighten U.S. domination over the world. And insuring control of the oil resources of the Persian Gulf has long been a top priority of the U.S. corporations and government. It's these imperial ambitions which lie behind the frenzied war preparations against Iraq. The U.S. rulers' problem is that there's a rival bully, Saddam Hussein, who has his own ambitions to dominate the Middle East. Though the U.S. has been instigating the recent conflict, justice lies on neither side.

. Bush has hypocritically disguised this war as a war of liberation or a war against weapons of mass destruction. But despite the propaganda barrage from the government and media, the movement against the Bush administration's war drive has been gathering momentum. Huge mass demonstrations have already broken out while smaller meetings and protests keep springing up all over the place. This is not only due to the mass outrage with Bush, but the dedicated efforts of numerous activists.

. There are also disagreements within the movement. Some of this is sectarian squabbling between groups whose main goal is to dominate this or that coalition. But there are also serious questions of orientation. At heart, they fundamentally boil down to whether to recognize the connection of the war to the class interests of the ruling bourgeoisie. It is a question of whether to base the anti-war movement on the class interests of the workers and other oppressed masses, or to restrict it to a policy dispute between different factions of imperialist politicians.

The root cause of war

. The current war drive is not merely the personal crusade of Bush or some other politician. It springs from the drive to exploit the whole world by the same huge corporations that dominate the American economy. These huge monopolies are constantly seeking greater profits, and they aren't satisfied with only exploiting the working class here. They are on a never-ending drive for global domination in order to secure markets, resources and cheap labor, and to hold rival capitalists in check. The wealth and power of the monopolies enabled them to long ago establish a vast web of direct ties between capitalist businesses and the military and government institutions, rig up political parties to do their bidding, set up their "think tanks", and use their control of the mass media to hoodwink the masses. Whenever their quest for world domination runs into resistance, be it from the oppressed masses or from bourgeois rivals, the government-military machine of the capitalists is there to threaten or carry out forcible compliance with the wishes of big business. Thus, war is the logical outcome of a system based on domination of the world by the big capitalists.

. There are some differences among the American bourgeoisie over how to preserve global domination, and how to deal with Iraq. But all the main sections of the bourgeoisie support U.S. world domination. And the parties who represent the corporations, the Democratic as well as the Republican party, thus also support imperialism.

. An anti-imperialist stand means recognizing this class connection of the bourgeoisie and war. It means basing the anti-war movement on fighting the real causes of war, and not just the political rhetoric. This means basing the anti-war struggle on the working masses. In particular, it means

Behind the fiasco of the Democratic Party

. The Democratic Party lost the 2002 elections. It isn't just that it lost control of the Senate, but it showed itself bankrupt ideologically. It "me-too"-ed Bush on the "war on terrorism" and on the economy. It didn't do this mainly for fear of losing votes, but because it is another party that represents the bourgeoisie and the corporations. It too wants to see the U.S. corporations dominate the world, and it's only quibble with the Republicans is how best to do this.

. It's no accident that the last century has been an endless series of wars no matter if the Republicans or Democrats were in power. And it's no surprise that most of the Democratic Party strongly backs the Iraq war. The Democratic Congressional leadership gave Bush a blank check to attack Iraq, even if he does so unilaterally, without UN approval.

. The other section of the Democrats, including the likes of Al Gore and Michigan Democratic senator Carl Levin, worry that unilateralism will weaken the system of alliances that prop up U.S. global power. They don't support the oppressed peoples around the world, but the continuation of imperial alliances. They oppose not imperialism, but unilateralism. They back a multilateralist policy according to which Bush should first line up support of other big capitalist governments via the UN, before invading Iraq. They are not against war as an option. This includes Michigan's David Bonior and Seattle's Jim McDermott, who went on a "peace mission" to Iraq. McDermott described their message as "If you don't have unfettered inspections, you are going to have war. " Meanwhile the UN has made it clear that, no matter what it decides, it won't stand in the way of Bush if he insists on invading Iraq.

. The Democrats are so anxious to appeal to their real base, the imperialist bourgeoisie, that when they oppose Bush, they like to pose as being even more warlike than Bush. Congressional Black Caucus member John Conyers, who poses as one of the most anti-war of politicians, is calling for reviving the draft! Other Democrats are calling for Bush to be more warlike against North Korea, and just about all of them are criticizing him for supposedly losing sight of the "war on terrorism". An anti-war movement that supports the Democrats would be step by step turned into a pro-draft, pro-war in Asia, and pro-repression movement.

Go directly to the workers, minorities, and youth

. The strength of the anti-war movement depends on how far it links up with workers, the poor, the immigrant communities and the youth. Unfortunately, today the workers don't have militant organization to speak in their name. The trade unions are shackled by a top leadership that would rather join the capitalists on boards of directors, than lead a struggle against them. The AFL-CIO is led by bureaucrats who have little connection with the workers other than the dues they collect, and who cozy up to one bourgeois politician after another, mostly the Democrats. They often talk big, but they are known for selling out one struggle after another. Moreover, the AFL-CIO has a long history of working with the U.S. government to sabotage militant labor groups abroad.

. The unease about this war among the working class is growing. Local unions and councils have passed resolutions critical of Bush's war drive. According to one report these groups represent three million workers. This shows the extent of the feeling against the war, but it would be a mistake to think that the anti-war movement can rely on such resolutions. Often workers aren't even informed about the resolutions, much less mobilized into action by the union officials. The activists must directly approach the workers and organize among them. Nothing will happen unless workers are organized into militant groups which really represent their interests, such as anti-war groups, workplace or union rank-and-file groups, etc. Meanwhile John Sweeney, head of the AFL-CIO, in his letter to Congress of October 24, goes no further than the Democrats. He considers war on Iraq OK so long as it's "the last option, not the first", and frets that the Bush administration may not be fervent enough in the "war on terror". Some city councils have also passed critical resolutions on the war. Yet not only aren't the councils actually going to do anything, but these resolutions, like the trade unions ones, are generally along Democratic Party lines.

. Thus activists should engage workers directly, leaflet workplaces and communities, and bring protests to the streets of working class neighborhoods. This also helps develop ties to the black and Latino and other minority communities, which are overwhelmingly working class, and strengthens internationalist links to immigrant communities.

. This will broaden the anti-war struggle, by linking it with the vast working majority of this country. After all, it's the working class who will bear the burden here for the war. It's their sons and daughters who will kill or be killed. It's they who will feel the weight of higher taxes, cutbacks and repression. But workers are not only interested in the way the war drive harms them directly, but in world events, the fate of other working people around the world, and whether imperial domination is just. Anti-imperialist agitation punctures bourgeois views, and helps the workers move closer to having a truly class movement, conscious of being not a special interest group, but part of a world movement in opposition to the present bourgeois ruling classes. This will bring us closer to the day of eliminating the very cause of war, capitalism.

Solidarity with the Iraqi masses

. Developing class solidarity with the Iraqi masses is also part and parcel of real anti-imperialist work. They face oppression from imperialism, with its brutal sanctions and war, as well the tyrannical rule of Hussein. The anti-war movement here must oppose both imperialism and Hussein. It must stand for the right of self-determination of the Kurds, who inhabit northern Iraq as well as part of Iran, Turkey, and other countries. It must stand against the oppression of the majority Shiite Muslim population in the south. Though Hussein's clique relies on the minority Sunni Muslims for its base, the majority of the Sunni population also suffers under the bourgeois-militarist regime

. Solidarity with the Iraqi masses today is complicated by the lack of revolutionary forces representing the interests of the working people. For example, the Kurdish movement is dominated by groups representing the Kurdish bourgeoisie rather than the Kurdish masses. Meanwhile, the Shia elite exert a strong influence in the south through Islamic religious movements. These forces are more concerned about getting positions of power for themselves rather than the well-being of the working people. To this end they have over the years periodically sought a deal with either Hussein or imperialism despite being betrayed time and again by both. At present they are lining up behind Bush's war machine and quarreling among themselves for positions of power in the post-Hussein set-up under terms dictated by the U.S. government. Bush and other apologists for the war have made use of this to bolster the lie that the U.S. war is a war of liberation. In this situation, support for the Iraqi masses doesn't translate into championing the main opposition leaders in Iraq, but to encouraging the Iraqi people to develop their own independent forces in struggle against Hussein and imperialist domination.

. There are those who think it sufficient to criticize U.S. warmongering while avoiding the issue of solidarity with the struggles of the Iraqi people against Hussein. Worse, there are certain Trotskyist groups (Workers World Party, Spartacist League, etc. ) that paint up Hussein's conflict with the U.S. in anti-imperialist colors. This only plays into the hands of the warmongers. It assists Bush's propaganda that he, and not the anti-war movement, is really on the side of the Iraqi people.

. Nor does international solidarity have anything to do with that trend of bourgeois thinking which opposes Bush's war because it fears that it will weaken U.S. control in the region. For example, some liberal opponents of the war argue that the status quo in the Middle East would be destabilized should Bush topple Hussein. But this status quo is a system of U.S. alliances with reactionary regimes in the region, and a system of persecution of the masses in Iraq and throughout the region. Support for this status quo would hurt the anti-war movement by alienating it from the sympathy that working people here feel for other peoples fighting tyrannical governments.

A long-term struggle

. The mass actions against Bush's war plans helped disrupt the chauvinist hysteria around the "war on terrorism", and they have given the lie to the view that all Americans support Bush on Iraq. At the same time it's worth recognizing that despite our best efforts, Bush's war may well take place. This wouldn't mean that anti-war struggle had been wasted. On the contrary. The Iraq crisis will continue throughout the war, and for a long time afterwards. Moreover, the Iraq war crisis is one of many that will take place as Bush pursues his endless "war on terror". The Palestinian crisis continues, a new North Korea crisis is brewing, while American intervention has been increasing for some time in Colombia and the Philippines. The struggle against the outbreak of the war should help build up organization and preparedness for continued struggle. The more the anti-war movement has an anti-imperialist outlook, the clearer the connection between these different struggles will be, and the easier it will be to use the strength developed in one struggle to aid the next.

. Some activists may worry that taking an anti-imperialist stand means isolating oneself and having a very small movement. But taking an anti-imperialist stand doesn't mean separating oneself off from everyone else. It means encouraging everyone to take concrete steps to strengthen the anti-war movement, working to link together the anti-imperialist activists, and orienting oneself towards building up the independent activity of the masses. Indeed, revolutionary politics and militant struggle strike a sympathetic chord among many of the oppressed even in today's climate where the class struggle is at low ebb. Moreover, without an anti-imperialist perspective, the movement will be dominated by Democratic Party-type politics that leaves the door to war open. Thus the more activists who consciously take up anti- imperialist politics, the stronger the orientation of the movement will be.

. Today many anti-war groups have a variety of views represented in their ranks. Anti-imperialism doesn't require activists to boycott demonstrations and rallies with weak slogans or that are under the influence of Democratic Party-politics. Instead militant activists should look for ways to put forward their own independent stand within the overall movement. Those who share anti-imperialist views need to find ways to coordinate among themselves, while possibly participating in or with other groups if these groups are doing useful work and don't prevent one from carrying out anti-imperialist agitation.

. During the Cold War, the American bourgeoisie denied that the U.S. was imperialist. But today a section of bourgeois opinion is openly celebrating imperialism. In the establishment press itself, there is a small but steadily growing stream of articles and books about the nature of U.S. imperialism and its past history and its future prospects. Most politicians don't talk about this, because their job is to lull the masses to sleep. But it is the job of anti-war activists to call the masses to struggle, to rally them against unjust wars. How can the anti-war movement do that, without talking openly to the masses about what imperialism is, why it exists, which parties support it, and how to fight it?


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Last changed on May 25, 2003.