By Fred Goldstein, Workers World, March 19, 2009
With Washington carrying out war, occupation and intervention on expanding fronts, the anti-war movement is more necessary than ever. It is needed by the workers and oppressed people abroad who are the direct targets of the Pentagon and also by the masses of people in the U.S. who will pay for these military operations and have to carry them out.
The anti-war struggle is developing in the midst of the most severe economic crisis in generations. This creates a new situation for the movement and raises two burning questions: what should be the character of the movement and what should be the relationship of the struggle against the war to the struggle against the economic crisis?
While millions of workers are losing their jobs and their homes and undocumented workers are being scapegoated and rounded up in raids, Washington is promoting aggression in one form or another in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.
The workers in the U.S. are under attack because U.S. capitalism has been seized by an inevitable crisis of overproduction, which is built into the system.
The oppressed people abroad are under attack because the Pentagon is trying to secure the interests of the giant oil companies and the transnational corporations and banks with global empires, from Halliburton, Exxon and GM to Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and AIG—the biggest insurance company in the world with operations in over 100 countries. These same capitalist corporations are behind the crisis at home.
These two developments are inseparable: the collapse of profits at home and the search for super-profits abroad.
Just a brief resume of recent events shows the need for an anti-imperialist movement with a global outlook.
Some 17,000 U.S. troops are scheduled to leave for the front in Afghanistan within weeks to continue a war that was launched in October 2001 and shows no sign of ending. The war has recently been expanded to northwest Pakistan, with Predator drones violating Pakistani air space at will and U.S. Special Forces going over the border.
The administration is withdrawing troops from Iraq at a snail’s pace and is committed to keeping an occupation force of 50,000 in the country to secure its puppet regime, its military position and the interests of the oil companies, both in Iraq and in the region.
Diplomacy notwithstanding, threats to Iran continue. It was just revealed that U.S. forces shot down an Iranian pilotless plane over Iraqi air space in February, showing both a provocation to Iran and the absolute sovereignty of the U.S. military over the Iraqi puppets.
The U.S. continues the flow of funds and military supplies to Israel to carry out its brutal occupation of Palestine. This includes the continued expulsion of Palestinians to make way for settlements and Israeli aggression against Gaza.
Under the guise of the so-called “war on terror,” the U.S. has sent 6,000 U.S. troops to lead 2,500 Filipino troops in operations in the Bicol region south of Manila.
In south Korea, 26,000 U.S. troops are leading 50,000 south Korean troops in military exercises—dubbed operations Key Resolve and Foal Eagle—all over south Korea from March 9 to March 20. The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis and seven U.S. Aegis missile-carrying destroyers are taking part.
On March 9, the Pentagon sent a naval spy ship equipped with anti-submarine sonar into China’s territorial waters in the South China Sea in a calculated provocation.
The Pentagon continues to aid the death squad government in Colombia; Washington is trying to destabilize the revolutionary government of Hugo Chávez in Venezuela; is fomenting a separatist movement against the first Indigenous president in Latin America, Evo Morales of Bolivia; and continues the embargo against socialist Cuba.
In Africa, the Pentagon is moving ahead with plans to establish an African Command. For the present it is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, with Army and Navy operations set up in Italy. This bolsters the U.S. effort to strangle the nationalist government of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe through sanctions and undermine the regime in Sudan.
The Pentagon has killed up to 1 million people in Iraq. It has killed untold numbers in Afghanistan, including civilians. The U.S. military has a long record of wars of conquest, starting with the decimation of the Native peoples, then the seizure of much of Mexico and, in 1898, the invasion of Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Dozens more followed.
The U.S. is the only government ever to use nuclear weapons. The Pentagon is the overseas arm of the same racist, repressive state that has 2.4 million people in jail, disproportionately Black and Latina/o, and uses the racist death penalty.
More than a century of wars and interventions does not flow just from bad policies. The policies flow from the needs of the giant imperialist monopolies that have spread their corporate empires across the globe in their insatiable desire for cheap labor, raw materials and profits.
Working-class movement must be goal
Before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the largest anti-war protests in U.S. history were organized. The same goes for Britain, Spain and other European countries. But these mammoth protests failed to stop the war, even though such protests are an indispensable stage in the opposition to imperialist war and a necessary show of solidarity.
Protests can be a deterrent to capitalist governments at times and they are necessary to create the organization and energy needed to move to the stage of outright resistance.
There are many forms of resistance to imperialist war. But the class character of capitalist society dictates the ultimate forms of effective resistance.
A profound and protracted economic crisis, such as the entire capitalist world is going through now, is bound to eventually produce an upsurge of resistance among the working class. Once the rebellion against capitalist exploitation takes hold among the workers, once consciousness of the antagonism between “them and us” becomes widespread, it sets the stage for their rebellion against being used to enable a war for the exploiters—either as workers or soldiers.
The U.S. war on Vietnam took place at the height of imperialist prosperity, when the workers as a class were relatively shielded from the disasters of a protracted capitalist crisis.
The period was nevertheless characterized by rebellions against war and the draft among the youth, resistance among the soldiers, and uprisings against racism, police repression and poverty in the African-American, Latina/o and Native communities. But the workers as a class, at the point of production, remained at a distance from the struggle.
Even during that war, however, the crucial character of the workers as soldiers emerged. It was the workers in uniform who finally obstructed the war in a material way by rebelling against the military, by refusing to go into battle, by going AWOL en masse and by resorting to violence against their officers. They even organized an anti-war union, the American Servicemen’s Union.
Today, matters are quite different. Not only is there a growing crisis for the soldiers who are being called upon to kill or be killed abroad, but the working class as a whole is in a growing crisis. More than 20 million workers are unemployed or underemployed. There are no signs that the layoffs are going to stop. Millions of people have lost their homes or are going to lose them.
The vicious cycle behind a capitalist downturn—where layoffs lead to poverty which leads to more layoffs—is transparent now, unlike in the 1960s. The sight of rich bankers being bailed out while the workers get a few stimulus crumbs is there for all to see. The contradiction of having to close down factories, shut down whole chains of retail stores, keep food off the market, and drive people out of millions of homes while tent cities of the homeless spring up around the country–in short, the contradiction of poverty amidst plenty–can open the way in the long run to organize the working class to struggle against the system and its wars.
Right now $534 billion has been budgeted for the military, but this does not include many military related expenses such as nuclear weapons research, veterans’ costs, interest on debt from past wars, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Factor these in, and the war budget for this year rises to at least $1 trillion! The struggle for resources to create jobs is inextricably bound up with the struggle against the military.
But beyond military spending alone, the struggle to bring the working class into the anti-war movement is the only way to go from protest to resistance to actually stopping the wars and interventions. It is the workers who create and transport everything that supports the war. They as a class have the social power to interfere with the war. In one reminder of this fact, it is worth recalling that the International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down the entire port system on the West Coast on May Day, 2008, to protest the Iraq war. This was a political strike. While a one-day strike alone could not stop the war, this example is of the greatest significance for the anti-war movement.
The approach the anti-war movement takes to reach the workers not only needs to include working-class demands in its program, like the right to a job, but it needs to seek out ways of showing concrete solidarity in the struggle. In order to insure the broadest solidarity, it is essential to include demands for the rights of undocumented workers as well as demands against racism, national oppression, sexual and gender oppression, and all other forms of oppression.
To be sure, the anti-war struggle must be carried on independently. But it must have a working-class perspective. Anti-imperialist resistance must fuse with international working-class solidarity. It must be recognized that the workers and oppressed of the world are under attack by the same bosses and bankers that carry out exploitation and layoffs at home.
Ultimately, the struggle against the war must become a struggle against capitalism itself, which engenders war and intervention in its search for profit, just as it produces crises and suffering at home.
Strengthening the working-class struggle against capitalism is the surest way to help get U.S. imperialism off the backs of the people of the world.
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