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What Will It Take to Defeat the War?

by Internationalist Group Friday, Jul. 18, 2008 at 7:32 AM 212-460-0983 Box 3321, Church Street Station, New York, NY 10008

On June 28-29, an “Open National Antiwar Conference” was held in Cleveland, called by a newly minted National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation. Over objections from the conference organizers, centrally Socialist Action, the assembly voted to change the name to include reference to the war on Afghanistan, and to emphasize the connection with U.S. backing for the Zionist occupation of Palestine. (The sponsors of the confab were so right-wing that they feared losing “unity” with Democratic Party supporters of Israel and the Afghanistan war!) What did not change at all was the popular-front character of the new outfit, tying it to the bourgeois parties despite the fig leaf of electoral “independence.” Making this utterly clear, it was decided not to call a national antiwar mobilization prior to the November elections explicitly in order to court those forces who wish to aid the Democrats (and therefore want to avoid making problems for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama). Here is the leaflet issued by the Internationalist Group at the conference.

What Will It Take to Defeat the War? Not Another Popular-Front “Peace Movement,” Mobilize the Working Class to Fight for Power! Break with All the Capitalist Parties – For a Revolutionary Workers Party! For Workers Strikes Against the War Defeat U.S. Imperialism – Defend the Iraqi and Afghan Peoples

The following leaflet was issued by the Internationalist Group at the antiwar conference called by the National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation held in Cleveland, Ohio on June 28-29. Over objections from the conference organizers, the assembly voted to change the name to National Assembly to End the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars and Occupations, and to emphasize the connection with U.S. backing for the Zionist occupation of Palestine. The sponsors of the confab were so right-wing that they feared losing “unity” with Democratic supporters of Israel and the Afghanistan war! What did not change at all was the popular-front character of the new outfit, tying it to the bourgeois parties despite the fig leaf of electoral “independence.” Making this utterly clear, it was decided not to call a national antiwar mobilization prior to the November elections explicitly in order to court those forces who wish to aid the Democrats (and therefore want to avoid making problems for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Barack Obama).

A “National Assembly” has called an “Open National Antiwar Conference” in Cleveland to found a new antiwar organization, in addition to the various already existing coalitions. Its promoters, chiefly Socialist Action (SA) and several other self-described socialist groups, expect hundreds of activists to attend the conference and deal with the debilitating problems facing the antiwar movement as the U.S. terror war on the world is well into its seventh year. Many antiwar activists were disturbed when massive protests were held all over the globe on the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq – everywhere except this country. “The absence of a massive united mobilization during this period in the United States,” says the call for the Cleveland conference, “should be a great concern to us all.”

The conference organizers say that the main reason that protests were called off, that protests have dwindled in size, and that earlier antiwar marches, which were the largest in the history of the U.S., have failed to have any effect on the course of the war, is organizational: squabbles between narrow “sectarian” formations supposedly stood in the way of united, “democratic” decision-making. Wrong. The problem is political. The reason that there were no big antiwar actions last March was because the main “coalitions” didn’t want to embarrass the Democratic Party at the height of the primary season.

The January 2008 issue of Socialist Action newspaper carried an exposé (“U.S. Antiwar Movement Falters: An Insider’s View”) of the machinations of the leaders of United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ) to prevent a national antiwar mobilization last March, saying they sought to “focus on currying favor with the Democrats.” True enough, as far as it goes. Yet now, through the “National Assembly” it has initiated, SA is prepared to do the same thing it criticized the UFPJ for. Why is there is no mention of Afghanistan in the conference call? Simple: because the Democrats are all for the war on Afghanistan. Any why does the action proposal by the coordinating committee call for a national protest only in Spring 2009? Because they don’t want to get in the way of Democrat Barack Obama’s election bid. Yet Obama is for escalating the war in Afghanistan and says he is prepared to bomb inside Pakistan and attack Iran!

So because the conference organizers, with all their talk of being “independent,” are bound by their bourgeois political loyalties, they are set to repeat the policies of the present “antiwar movement” leaders, which will produce the same impotent failures as previous protests. Albert Einstein is said to have defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If 20 or so “mass mobilizations” since 2001 appealing to Congress to stop the war have had no effect, how is a new national organization dedicated to “peaceful, legal” mass mobilizations of the same sort going to stop the war machine? Answer: it won’t.

Behind the seeming insanity is a program. “Though this be madness, yet there is a method in’t.” This new effort at an “inclusive,” “independent,” “democratic” antiwar formation is actually organizing a coalition of class collaboration that is “inclusive” of the Democrats and other capitalist parties. Look at the list of endorsers: it includes the “Progressive Democrats of America” (a group set up by the Democratic Socialists of America), the Duluth Democratic Farmer-Labor Party, various representatives of the capitalist Green party, etc. But even if the bourgeois parties and politicians weren’t directly present, these coalitions are inevitably and invariably aimed at pressuring the capitalist rulers.

Such popular fronts serve to chain the exploited and oppressed to a wing of their exploiters and oppressors – i.e., the supposedly “democratic” or “anti-fascist,” “anti-imperialist” or “antiwar” capitalists. And from Spain and France in the 1930s to Chile and Portugal in the 1970s, they always prepare the road to defeat by heading off revolutionary struggle. The vaunted “independence” of the various coalitions is a fig leaf to cover up the fact that they are in fact aiding the parties of war and racism. Yet the fundamental point is that to stop imperialist war it will take international workers revolution to bring down the capitalist system that generates endless wars.

Otherwise, the perspective is for one imperialist war after another, and one impotent antiwar movement after another. Look at the list, just since World War II: Korea (1950-53, with U.S. troops still there); Vietnam (1954 to 1975); Afghanistan (1980-1989); Cuba Bay of Pigs (1961, followed by decades of economic blockade); Central America (1980-1989), Iraq, Gulf War (1990-91), Yugoslavia/Bosnia (1995), Yugoslavia/Kosovo (1999), Afghanistan again (2001 to date), Iraq again (2003 to date), not to mention countless coups, “peacekeeping” operations and other U.S. imperialist interventions in Africa, Asia and Latin America. And the drum beat of war goes on.

Ultimately, it points toward a new World War III against the U.S.’ present imperialist “allies” and rivals. The next step may be an Israeli attack on Iran, backed up by Washington.We say: Iran, a semi-colonial country, has the right to nuclear or any other weapons it needs to fend off imperialist attack. Defend Iran against Israeli/U.S. attack!

The Trotskyists of the Internationalist Group, U.S. section of the League for the Fourth International, put forward a program against imperialist war that is sharply counterposed to the bourgeois politics of all the factions of the antiwar movement. Rather than peace parades that appeal to Congress to moderate the war policy (“Troops out,” “Bring the troops home,” etc.), we seek to mobilize the international working class at the head of all the exploited and oppressed to defeat the imperialists in this war, unleashing workers power through strikes against the war and refusal to transport war cargo, on the road to world socialist revolution to overturn the capitalist system. This was the program of the Bolsheviks, who brought World War I to an end by turning the imperialist war into a civil war, toppling the capitalist order in Russia in the 1917 October Revolution and unleashing a wave of revolutionary agitation internationally.

“Ridiculous!” “Ultra-left!” exclaim the self-proclaimed socialists, even would-be “Trotskyists” who back this latest antiwar coalition. These same people insisted that our call for workers strikes against the war was utopian “pie in the sky.” But the IG fought for and played an important role in building the first-ever strike against a U.S. war by an American union. This past May 1, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) shut down every port on the West Coast against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan (see our extensive coverage of this historic action in the current issue of The Internationalist). While various reformist pseudo-socialists now want to praise the ILWU, trying to include it as one more sector of their antiwar popular fronts, we insisted from the beginning that strikes against the war must be directed against the imperialist parties of war and racism, leading to the building of a revolutionary workers party. 

“Mass Action” for the Democrats, or Workers Strikes Against the War

The fundamental difference between powerless peace parades and mobilizing workers power is not on the plane of tactics or organizational structure. The difference is in the class content of the program against imperialist war. As the Trotskyists wrote in the 1930s as the local wars were spreading (China, Ethiopia, Spain) leading up the second imperialist world war:

“The most common mistake made in the attempted it struggle against war comes from the belief that this exists somehow ‘independent’ of the class struggle in general, that a broad union of all sorts of persons from every social class and group can be formed around the issue of fighting war, since – so the reasoning goes – these persons may be all equally opposed to war whatever their differences on other points. In this way, war is lifted from its social base, considered apart from its causes and conditions, as if it were a mystic abstraction instead of a concrete historical institution. Acting on this belief, attempts are made to build up all kinds of permanent Peace Societies, Antiwar Organizations, Leagues Against War, etc.

“This kind of attitude is about as effective as it for doctors to treat the high fever in acute appendicitis by putting the patient in an ice-box. The only way actually get rid of the high fever is to remove the cause of the fever – that is, to take out the diseased appendix. The thing is true for war: the only way to get rid of war is to remove the cause of war.”

War and the Workers (1936)

This war to enslave the people of Iraq and Afghanistan is also, like every imperialist war, a war against the “enemy within.” From the U.S.A. PATRIOT act to the overturning of Brown vs. Board of Education (the ruling that led to formal desegregation of the schools), to the military quarantine and counterinsurgency operation against the poor black population of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, and the Gestapo-style roundups and deportations of hundreds of thousands of immigrants, this war has targeted blacks, immigrants and labor on the “home front.” What is called for is a powerful workers struggle for the defeat of this war, which would unite and mobilize the oppressed masses in the colonies and in the heart of the imperialist beast.

The National Assembly calls to “bring the troops home now!” Despite what the opportunists claim, this is not the same as defeating U.S. imperialist war, “objectively” or otherwise. Hillary Clinton made the point explicitly: “Senator McCain and President Bush claim withdrawal is defeat... Well, let’s be clear, withdrawal is not defeat. Defeat is keeping troops in Iraq for 100 years. Defeat is straining our alliances and losing our standing in the world. Defeat is draining our resources and diverting attention from our key interests” (Boston Globe 18 March 2008). Barack Obama wants to disengage from what he calls the “dumb war” in Iraq, albeit slowly and partially, leaving thousands of troops in the area, in order to wage what he thinks are “smart” wars against Afghanistan and Iran!

“Troops out” is an appeal addressed to the growing sector of the imperialist bourgeoisie that sees the Iraq adventure as a failure and wants to rescue U.S. imperialism for future wars. “Support the troops by bringing them home”? This is a red-white-and-blue loyalty oath to U.S. imperialism. Bring the troops home to do what? Patrol the Mexican border, as Republicans and Democrats (and the fascist Minutemen) suggest? After Hurricane Katrina, the elite 101st Airborne division and Blackwater mercenaries were brought home, with orders from Louisiana’s Democratic governor to shoot to kill the stranded survivors!

The “theory” of “mass action” that the conference promoters expound endlessly is a banality that explains nothing and conceals everything. It will take “mass action” to stop the war, like it would take “motion” to travel to Alaska. But motion in what direction, in what sort of vehicle? Who’s in the driver’s seat, and who’s stuffed in the trunk? Mass action of what class, with what program? The conference proposes “The independent and united mobilization of the antiwar majority in massive peaceful demonstrations.... Mass actions aimed at visibly and powerfully demonstrating the will of the majority....” But imperialist wars are not made by majorities, and they are certainly not ended by popular demand. The capitalists produce constant war to grab markets for labor and industry away from their imperialist rivals.

Imperialist war can only be defeated with class war. Talk of “majorities” peacefully persuading the (ruling-class) “minority” to withdraw from Iraq by “demonstrating” that the majority is a majority, is a deception that serves the ruling class by promoting illusions in bourgeois “democracy.” So what if the capitalists and war supporters are a minority? It hasn’t stopped them before. This minority rules through the capitalist state apparatus: it has the police, the prisons, the courts and the armed forces at its disposal, as well as the capitalist media as a platform for “opinion makers.” This minority makes war to keep its heel on the necks of oppressed and exploited millions. Nothing but smashing the capitalist system will put an end to imperialist war. The “Progressive Democrats,” Greens and the phony socialists are opponents of workers revolution. Unity with them means endless war.

Two, Three, Many Peace Parades, or a Revolutionary Workers Party?

A little history may be in order here. Most of the key organizers of the Cleveland conference are alumni of the Vietnam peace movement. Part of the motivation for this conference comes from a generation of ex-members of the ex-Trotskyist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) who dream of reliving the halcyon days of their youth as leaders of the SWP’s Vietnam-era National Peace Action Coalition (NPAC). They claim it was the antiwar movement that stopped the Vietnam War. This is a willful rewriting of history, unless we are to believe that the National LIberation Front and North Vietnamese army were some sort of Quakers. The U.S. imperialists and their allies were defeated militarily by the Vietnamese workers and peasants, two years after the U.S.’ official Vietnam antiwar movement packed up and went home. The peace movement was satisfied with the withdrawal of most of “our boys” while mass-murder bombing and a proxy civil war escalated. Trotskyist revolutionaries, on the other hand, said that “our boys” were the Viet Cong, and hailed the U.S. defeat in Vietnam, proclaiming “All Indochina Must Go Communist!”

Moreover, NPAC along with the Communist Party-dominated People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice (PCPJ) were the right wing of the seething mass movement of potentially revolutionary discontent that exploded out of the black ghettos onto college campuses and into sectors of the working class. Just like today’s Cleveland assembly that rolls out the red carpet to the “progressive” Democrats, NPAC had Democratic senator Vance Hartke on its governing board, even while the SWP piously intoned that its pop front was “independent” of the Democrats. When leftists intervened in a 1971 NPAC conference to protest the presence of the capitalist politician and CIA bag-man Victor Reuther, SWP/NPAC goons viciously attacked them, throwing one oppositionist through a glass door to defend their coalition’s bourgeois “respectability.”

At NPAC peace parades – which would vanish during even-numbered (i.e., election) years, just like the barely-moving “movement” today – more than once the SWP set up daisy chains of marshals chanting “peaceful, legal!” to try to divert and exclude demonstrators carrying NLF flags. In his chronicle of the Vietnam antiwar movement, SWPer Fred Halstead admits that as soon as U.S. troops were withdrawn, “Virtually all the local antiwar coalitions also folded up” (Out Now! [1978]). Halstead also records that “No mass socialist movement emerged from the antiwar activity... Once the war in Vietnam was over, the organized movement against it ceased to exist. This was inevitable.” Inevitable, since the SWP’s subordination to Democratic “doves” made these reformists hardened opponents of revolutionary politics, or of any political line to the left of the “single issue” dictated by the need to keep their capitalist “allies.”

The experience of NPAC should give pause to those radicals who would seek to be the “left wing” of the Cleveland popular front. Any real struggle against imperialist war is necessarily a class struggle and can only be waged in and through the mass organizations of the working class. We do not present our revolutionary program as an “action proposal” to this body, since to do so would only prettify what is a popular front of class collaboration. It is necessary instead to break the “alliance” that chains the workers to their war-making exploiters in the name of “peace.” Those who genuinely seek to put an end to imperialist war must break decisively with all the capitalist parties, the Green Party of longtime Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney included, and break with the popular front embodied in the “National Assembly” and all the other “antiwar” and “peace” coalitions. Every last one of them is beholden to the Democrats, the only difference is the UFPJ is up front about it, while the rest (ANSWER, TONC, CAN, World Can’t Wait, etc.) try to disguise it.

The National Assembly in Cleveland has been founded with the participation of sectors of the Democratic War Party. It exists to promote “peaceful” mass demonstrations that never have stopped an imperialist war, and never will. It stabs the suffering people of Afghanistan in the back, ignores the war against blacks and immigrant workers, and has nothing to say about the looming war on Iran, all for the sake of unity with “broad progressive forces,” i.e. the capitalist Democratic Party. And if the tame peace-crawls proposed by this condominium of fake socialists and bourgeois politicians end up playing an ancillary role in the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq, this will only set the stage for the next imperialist war – which will also have its “mass action” antiwar movement, as will the next war, and the next until the whole system is brought down through socialist revolution.

Pacifism, especially in the “socialist” inflection with which SA and the other opportunists preach it, diverts anger against the war into powerless “mass” lobbying in the streets. There is only one program to stop the imperialist war, and that is the program of revolutionary Marxism, i.e., Trotskyism. Every day that bourgeois coalitions for “peace” overshadow and crowd out class struggle against imperialist war will be another day of unimpeded imperialist slaughter and barbarism. The period in which the class traitors lead the “movement” nowhere must come to an end. As the founder and longtime leader of American Trotskyism wrote during the Korean War:

“The class struggle of the workers, merging with the colonial revolutions in a common struggle against imperialism, is the only genuine fight against war. The Stalinists who preach otherwise are liars and deceivers. The workers and colonial peoples will have peace when they have the power and use their power to take it and make it for themselves. That is the road of Lenin. There is no other road to peace.”

--James P. Cannon, The Road to Peace (1951)

Break with the bourgeoisie! Build a revolutionary workers party!

“None of the Above”

Various amendments have been offered to the Assembly’s Action Proposal and various opportunist leftist groups will be present. Here is a brief rundown on some of them.

The League for the Revolutionary Party, a centrist group whose origins go back to the current of “State Department socialists” of the anti-Trotskyist renegade Max Shachtman, is embarrassed by the dove on the logo for the National Assembly and wants it removed. They also want the assembled Democrats and their friends to oppose the war in Afghanistan. About 30 years too late! In the 1980-89 Afghanistan war, the neo-Shachtmanite LRP denounced Soviet intervention while Trotskyists hailed the Red Army and called for extension of the gains of the October Revolution to the Afghan peoples. But the LRP does not call for a break with the Democrats, or anything even approximating a Leninist program against the imperialist war.

Not surprising, since the LRP’s supreme ambition is to be the “left pole” of a class-collaborationist peace movement. The LRP’s signal pledge of loyalty to the bourgeois order is its elaborate justification of its “preference” for a draft – just as the U.S. military is struggling to fill its boots and body-bags. Why? The imperialists “must have an army,” so these phony “revolutionaries” “prefer” a draft. So do Charles Rangel and a number of other bourgeois politicians. The Internationalist Group stands on the tradition of Lenin, Liebknecht and Luxemburg: Not a man or woman, not a penny for imperialist war!

Then we have the Northeast Federation of Anarcho-Communists (NEFAC), a clot of anti-Soviet “communists” who cheered on the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of Eastern Europe. These gentlemen anarchists sniff that the Iraq invasion “violated all standards of truth, morality and international law and justice.” Imagine that, anarchists for international law! So NEFAC proposes that the Assembly “calls on the national AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations to follow the powerful example of the ILWU and organize a coordinated one-hour stoppage of all work on Election Day, 4 November 2008, to demand the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.”

In other words, the mid-level union bureaucrats and bourgeois politicians who populate this Assembly should ask the pro-imperialist bureaucrats at the head of the labor unions to organize a token demonstration on election day. If you weren’t born yesterday you know what that would look like, on the off-chance that it comes to fruition at all: NEFAC is calling for a get out the vote effort for the Democratic war party, dressed up in laborite “anti-war” language. The historic May Day ILWU strike against the war, which the IG fought for while NEFAC was looking for a way to wedge itself comfortably into the bourgeois peace movement, came from elected union delegates over resistance from the pro-capitalist union bureaucracy.

There is also a proposal from the AL (Animal Liberation) collective for “education,” which calls on the constituents of this Assembly to educate the masses about basic Marxist concepts of class relations in capitalist society and the nature of capitalist war. They might as well ask crocodiles to become vegans. The whole raison d’être of the phony socialists is to mislead the workers.

Finally, the ex-Trotskyist Spartacist League (SL) will be in evidence. The SL may make some correct criticisms of the various antiwar coalitions, yet it has abandoned the Leninist program for the defeat of the U.S. imperialists, instead substituting the “Out Now” slogan that is indistinguishable from SA and the rest of the opportunist left. The SL calls vaguely for “class struggle at home.” But there is one thing that “class struggle at home” doesn’t mean for the now-centrist SL: the struggle for workers strikes against the war. The SL used to champion this call before the counterrevolution in the Soviet Union led to a regression in the consciousness of its leadership, which now blames the working class for its own capitulations.

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