Class War Heats Up in the US
By John Peterson
As we have explained many times, the war on Iraq is nothing but an extension of the war on working people and youth here in the US. It is being fought in the interests of the rich capitalists in this country - the very same people responsible for the power brown-outs, Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, 50,000 workplace deaths per year, 465,000 jobs lost in the first quarter of this year, no universal healthcare plan, an almost non-existent social safety net, and on and on. These people cannot be trusted to work in the interests of the American people as a whole, let alone the Iraqis. And although the formal war on Iraq appears to be winding down, it is clear that the occupation and "peace" in Iraq will not be as smooth as many would believe. There are still battles to be fought, and many problems to face in a world rent apart by the arrogant bullying of the US imperialists.
Ordinary working Americans and youth are the ones fighting and dying in this war. Their interests are not being served here at home or abroad. The rich are getting richer, while the poor get poorer and are sent to war. Many questions will be asked by those young men and women who were sent abroad to kill and be killed. Most troops interviewed on TV express their desire to get back home as quickly as possible. They have done their duty, and are now eager to get on with their lives and make their way in the world. But what kind of world will they be facing when they return? Those who were not killed or maimed in the war, may have long-term health problems as a result of the oil fires, radioactive depleted uranium ammunition, residue from biological and chemical weapons left over from the first Gulf War, and vaccinations they received before shipping out to war.
According to Dr. Doug Rokke, former director of the Army's depleted uranium (DU) project. "People are sick over there already," It's not just uranium. You've got all the complex organics and inorganics [compounds] that are released in those fires and detonations. And they're sucking this in.... You've got the whole toxic wasteland." In what can only be described as astonishing, roughly one third of Gulf War I veterans are classified as disabled - that's 260,000 people! Others will be psychologically traumatized by the things they saw and did in Iraq. In addition to the well-documented killings of innocent men, women, and children in Iraq, rumors of murder, rape, and looting by British and American forces abound. Embedded journalists have reported that they bright-eyed and fresh faced kids they crossed the first sand berms with are now callous and de-sensitized. According to one US soldier, "The Iraqis are sick people and we are the chemotherapy. I am starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of
a friggin' Iraqi. No, I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him." These experiences have an effect which lasts long after the conflict is over. It is chilling to know that several Afghan War veterans have been charged with violently murdering their wives upon their return. It is also a little known fact that more Vietnam veterans committed suicide after the war than were killed during the conflict!
Those hoping to put their job skills to use in the civilian sector when they return to the US, or who wish to raise families and provide their children with healthcare, education, and opportunity, will be in for a serious shock. Education is being gutted, quality jobs are being slashed, pension plans are evaporating, and healthcare is more expensive than ever. The alternating euphoria and pessimism over the progress of the war has led to the incredible see-sawing of the financial markets, as investors try and guess what the post-war world will bring. The relatively quick end to the campaign will result in public attention very quickly focusing on the home front and on the economy - and Bush knows that this is the key to his being re-elected next year. So while his overall ratings are still quite high (though nowhere near as high as his father had in 1991), his rating on the economy is far lower.
The economic picture remains grim - and is perhaps worse than when the war began. Executives at top U.S. companies expect a weaker economic performance this year than last, and many believe they will need to reduce payrolls over the next six months. Some economists are saying that the economy may have already slipped back into recession. Investment broker Morgan Stanley predicts a worldwide recession, and the key to any recovery - a recovery in profitability is nowhere to be seen. As one Wall Street analyst put it: "There are people saying now that the war is over we need to look at the economy and it looks pretty sick." Another was quoted as saying, "We've got to start concentrating back on the fundamentals and they, certainly whilst the war has been on, have been deteriorating." Another said, "The fundamentals we are talking about here are largely not war-related (and) therefore we continue to be very concerned". This pessimism, coming even as a few hundreds of Iraqis dance upon the toppled statue of Saddam Hussein in downtown Baghdad, is a clear signal that Bush's hopes for a quick and easy war, followed by a booming economy are ill-founded.
In a previous article, we explained that the idea that the US ruling class is interested in bringing peace and "democracy" to Iraq is a farce and a lie. What we have in the US is a paper democracy - formally everyone is "equal". But in practice, what we have is democracy for the rich. Now even those basic "freedoms" which most Americans take for granted are under attack. Among the most basic rights outlined in the US Constitution are the rights to free expression and assembly. However, with the ongoing war on Iraq, and with the economic situation in the US steadily deteriorating, the state is showing its true face. Far from bringing peace, stability, and "freedom" to the people of the world, Bush and co. are accelerating the process of instability, increasing repression, and waging an increasingly open war against working people and the youth right here in the US.
So while the American military machine kills thousands of soldiers and civilians in Iraq, the police here at home are intensifying their repression of the anti-war and labor movement. It seems the successes of the US military (in which the most powerful military force on earth is pummeling a brave but hopelessly disadvantaged enemy) have inspired the US police to do likewise against peaceful protesters. In New York City, police have taken to arresting and intimidating lawful protesters just for supporting those engaged in civil disobedience. It is clear that the ruling class and its police force want to discourage people from feeling confident and safe while protesting, and see the need to nip the protest movement in the bud.
It is no surprise then that confrontations with police at the anti-war demonstrations which have raged since before the war began have been increasingly violent. It is therefore worth briefly revisiting the basic ideas of Marxism and the state as outlined by Lenin in The State and Revolution. The state is a repressive force that exists to defend the interests of one class in society over all others. The police act as the guard dogs of the ruling class and its state. In the US, the state is the defender of the capitalist class - it defends the power and profits of the tiny minority which exploits and represses the rest of society. But in times of "peace", the police are able to dupe the majority of the population into thinking that they are there to "serve and protect" the population as a whole. However, when the class war sharpens, as is happening on a world scale, the openly repressive function of the state becomes ever more apparent to millions of people. Most people do not learn from books and theory - but a crack on the skull from a "friendly" police officer is an easily understood lesson which will not be soon forgotten. This was the lesson learned by hundreds of unarmed and peaceful protesters when on Monday, April 7, police in Oakland, California opened fire with rubber bullets, sandbags, and concussion grenades. They also fired teargas- technically a chemical weapon - "on their own people".
The San Francisco area has been at the forefront of the anti-war movement in the US. Massive demonstrations were held before the war started, and once the shooting war actually began, daily protests erupted, involving thousands of people, with over 2,000 arrests. It is no accident that some of the sharpest confrontations with the capitalist state have occurred in the very same area where the conflict between the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and the PMA association of bosses (backed by the capitalist class and its government) took place. Several longshoremen who weren't even participating in the picket were "accidentally" shot when the police opened fire on the crowd which was protesting the war-profiteering of at least one company using the port. American President Lines was targeted as a result of its transport of military material to the Iraqi war zone.
Six longshoremen were treated by paramedics and at least one was expected to be taken to a hospital. "I was standing as far back as I could," said longshoreman Kevin Wilson. "It was very scary. All of that force wasn't necessary." Trent Willis, a business agent for the ILWU, said angrily that dockworkers were leaving the docks after the incident. "They shot my guys. We're not going to work today. The cops had no reason to open up on them."
Although the official excuse for the attack was that protesters were throwing rocks at police, several eyewitnesses say they saw nothing of the sort. According to Ken Morgan, an anti-war and labor activist with ILWU local 6: "I saw a young woman beside me, who was doing nothing provocative get hit by a wooden bullet. I saw the cops firing concussion rounds for no reason. When they attacked us at the SSA gate they gave a '3 minute warning' to disperse, and 60 seconds later opened fire. I saw a man with a head wound, from one of these projectiles laying on the ground in pain, between two cops, and not receiving any medical attention. I saw a young man, with welts and gashes on his back, from these rounds. Do me a favor everyone. Never, never, use the words, 'brave' and 'police' in the same sentence. Those two words are a contradiction in terms. Could I ask another favor? Please don't tell me Democrat wooden bullets aren't as bad as Republican wooden rounds. Concerning that 'great friend of labor' Jerry Brown. Being a veteran I understand the concept of 'command responsibility'. As Mayor, he is the 'commander in chief' of Oakland's armed force… To all of you in Local 6, Mayor J. Brown, who spoke at the last Local 6 convention, should be banned from Local 6 property, and any union gathering from now on. If I catch Jerry Brown, in any of Local 6's building, he will be physically ejected."
With the election year coming up, many workers are drawing advanced conclusions from the economic, political, social, and military instability all around us. While it is a topic for a future article, it is clear that the discontent of the labor movement at the spineless subservience of the Democratic Party to big business is growing. Once again we have to emphasize that the war on Iraq is part and parcel of the war on workers here in the US. As one sign on a recent demo very aptly put it, "the war on terror is a war on us".
But the fact that the anti-war movement has continued despite the pressure to "support the troops" by not opposing the war is significant. During WWI you could be arrested for even writing a letter to the editor against the war. The strength of working class is such that the bosses cannot come out in blatant reaction. They are still forced to keep up some semblance of "democracy" and "freedom". We should also keep in mind that the war on Iraq and the tearing up of all the norms of international relations is a sign of weakness - not of strength. The capitalist class would much rather make their profits and exploit the masses with a smile on their face through "peace", and the "rule of law". This is what they were able to do under Clinton, and they made a handsome profit. But with the world economy in such a mess, the inter-imperialist rivalries have sharpened. The fight for markets and spheres of influence has become a life or death game, with all the imperialists trying to ease the innumerable contradictions building up at home.
In this epoch of wars, revolutions, and counter-revolutions, it is truly comic to see Democratic presidential candidate Dean Kucinich propose a cabinet-level "Department of Peace" to balance the Departments of "Defense" and State. The department would "advocate non-violence and peace education, and would support international disarmament treaties and help resolve potentially violent conflicts around the world". He imagines that it is possible to legislate peace! This kind of liberal pacifism will not get us a single step closer towards ridding the world of war, poverty, hunger, and oppression. Only the end of the exploitative capitalist system can lay the basis for this. The class lines are being drawn, and intensification of the class struggle is very much on the agenda as the reality of the economic and social crisis dawns on millions of workers and young people. They are increasingly searching for answers to their questions, and more importantly, are already acting to fight back against the attacks of the ruling class.
What is needed is an orientation to the mass organizations of the working class and a socialist program for the revolutionary transformation of society. Around such a program, the workers and youth of the world can unite in the fight against the root cause of imperialist war - capitalism. This is the program of the international Marxist tendency which produces the In Defence of Marxism website, and of the Workers International League in the US. Join us in the fight for a better world!
April 10, 2003.
Vandals of the 21st century. By Alan Woods (April 10, 2003)
Baghdad - a second Beirut? By Roberto Sarti (April 9, 2003).
What is to be done?- The current situation and the tasks of the Marxists. By Alan Woods (April 3, 2003).
Iraqi resistance is turning into an anti-imperialist war. By Fred Weston (April 3, 2003)
"Democracy" in America. By John Peterson, editor of Socialist Appeal USA (April 1, 2003).
The war is not going according to plan. By Fred Weston (March 26, 2003)
The Ministry of Truth (on watching the "news" on CNN). By Alan Woods (March 21, 2003)
On the outbreak of war - The hounds are unleashed. By Alan Woods (March 20, 2002)
Balkans Syndrome - We Told You So By Peter Johnson (January 15, 2001)
Is NATO using Depleted Uranium in Yugoslavia? By Peter Johnson (April 12, 1999)
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