Photo: Sara Friedman
On September 24, hundreds of thousands will attend anti-war marches in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. The protest comes at a moment of great opportunity for the anti-war movement. The strength and breadth of the Iraqi resistance against the U.S. occupation, the increasing U.S. and Iraqi casualties and the wide exposure of the lies used to go to war have caused a crisis for the Bush administration and a great escalation in popular opposition to the war.
Yet, in the lead-up to the demonstrations, sharp divisions emerged within the U.S. anti-war movement.
The leadership of some anti-war organizations, including United for Peace and Justice, refused to embrace Palestinian, Arab and Muslim calls for the inclusion of demands for an end to the U.S.-backed Israeli occupation of Palestine and for the Palestinian people’s right to return to the land from which they have been forcibly displaced.
The ANSWER (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) Coalition, on the other hand, embraced the slogans of the Arab and Muslim communities as essential components in opposing the U.S. war in Iraq and the whole Middle East. The Party for Socialism and Liberation is a member of the ANSWER Coalition.
What are the reasons for this division in the anti-war movement?
The differences are not caused by a simple competition between coalitions and groups. Rather, the division is fundamentally based on different orientations toward the Democratic Party. The struggle over leadership in the anti-war movement has a profound impact on the direction and success of the movement.
In contrast to the ANSWER Coalition, others represent a wing of the anti-war movement that pins its hopes on the Democratic Party to reverse the course of the war, which they blame exclusively on the Bush administration. In fall 2002, these forces refused to support the growing mass movement to take to the streets against the war in favor of lobbying Congress to oppose the war authorization. In fall 2004, they virtually abandoned anti-war organizing in favor of supporting the pro-war Kerry presidential campaign.
Even now, this part of the movement has its eye on the 2006 elections, with hopes of “winning back” the House and Senate. With this goal in mind, any anti-war demands that are seen as too radical would jeopardize their ties to the Democratic establishment.
The ANSWER Coalition and its allies represent those who put their hopes in building an independent movement that can effectively stop the U.S. war machine. That means standing with all those who are fighting against U.S. imperialism, both in the United States and around the world.
No hope from the Democrats
Does the Democratic Party leadership, firmly tied to the billionaire capitalist ruling class, offer any hope to the millions who want to see the end of the deadly U.S. war machine? A brief review of the record is sufficient to answer that question.
Democratic and Republican politicians have united to support the Bush regime’s imperialist adventures. In the lead-up to the Afghanistan war, all but one in the House of Representatives voted to authorize sweeping and open-ended military powers.
Recently, despite the growing mass sentiment against the war, the Senate voted 99-0 to support the latest supplementary appropriations bill for both wars. This added $82 billion more to the over $180 billion price tag of the war.
Photo: Bill Hackwell
Two weak proposals from House Democrats calling for Bush to begin plans for troop withdrawal were both defeated in Congress. Meanwhile, the Democratic Leadership Council, led by Hillary Clinton, is calling for 100,000 more troops and the strengthening of national security.
While the Democrats may raise slightly different policies and slogans than Republicans, their long-term aims are the same. Retaining U.S. domination of Middle East is essential to the leaderships of both parties.
Look at the history of U.S. policy toward Iraq. From the first day of the victorious Iraqi revolution in 1958 that kicked out the British-backed monarchy, U.S. policy has never veered off the track of regaining control of this oil-rich country.
Iraq charted an independent course, using its vast oil resources to develop the country. When Iraq finally nationalized the Western-owned oil companies in 1972, Washington added Iraq to its list of “terrorist” nations.
In 1979, the United States lost its most vital ally or puppet government in the Middle East, outside of Israel, when the Iranian people rose up and toppled the Shah of Iran. Fearing the spread of Iran’s revolution to Saudi Arabia and other U.S. puppet regimes, the Carter Administration began to quietly support the Iraqi government in a war between Iraq and Iran that began in 1980.
Under the Reagan Administration, the United States provided support for the Iraqi government in its struggle with Iran. Later, in the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal, it was revealed that the Reagan Administration was also sending arms to Iran. Henry Kissinger succinctly put it, “We wanted them [both Iraq and Iran] to kill each other.”
At the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988, the U.S. government sharply shifted its military doctrine in the Gulf, pinpointing Iraq as its next principal adversary. Within two years, starting in August 1990, the Pentagon began dispatching 500,000 U.S. troops in preparation for the JanuaryFebruary 1991 war against Iraq. Between Jan. 16 and Feb. 28, 1991, the U.S. Air Force dropped 88,500 tons of explosives on Iraq, a country of 27 million people.
Although Iraq was defeated in the 1991 war, the first Bush administration, followed by the Clinton administration, continued to insist that the United Nations maintain economic sanctions on Iraq, allegedly to inhibit Iraq from obtaining weapons of mass destruction. More than 1.5 million Iraqis, about 8,000 people on average each month, died during the next 13 years, as the country was deprived of food, medicine, clean drinking water and other essentials necessary to sustain civilian life in the modern era.
While the second Bush administration took the policy of “regime change” to its final bloody conclusion with the “Shock and Awe” invasion of March 20, 2003, this policy had become the official doctrine of the United States in October 1998, when it was formalized into a Congressional bill signed by President Clinton.
The two parties of big business are even more unified in their support of the apartheid state of Israel. This support does not flow out of any solidarity with Jewish people. Virulently anti-Semitic politicians in the U.S. support Israel because of the strategic role Israel plays as a U.S. garrison state for maintaining control of the Middle East. Democrat or Republican, the pledges of support are unwavering.
For years, some in the anti-war and social justice movements have insisted on excluding any demands for Palestinian liberation, arguing that this “hot-button” issue would hamper the ability to reach out to “broader constituencies.” The past several years show that that is a lie: Hundreds of thousands have come to ANSWER demonstrations where Palestine has been a central focus.
It is the anti-Bush, yet pro-imperialist opposition politicians of the Democratic Party that will not embrace demands for Palestine. Standing anywhere near the Palestinian flag would threaten their position as the “loyal opposition.”
That is at the heart of the debate within the anti-war movement. Stand with the oppressed—or stand with the Democratic Party leadership.
Imperialism is not a policy
In the modern era, imperialist war is not a policy choice by one set of particularly “bad” ruling class politicians. It is an outgrowth of the capitalist drive toward domination of markets, an inextricable part of the expand-or-die capitalist system. The big business media sell the story of each new war as fighting “Islamic extremism,” “rogue dictators,” or “terrorists.” The reality is that the U.S. war drive will not end while the capitalist class remains in power.
The historical role of the Democratic Party as a second big-business party is to foster an image as the party of working and oppressed people, defending certain social gains, and generally taking a slower pace in increasing the economic exploitation of workers. It is a safety valve in periods of mass disillusionment with the capitalist system, whose aim is to channel the anger and militancy of the working class out of the streets and workplaces and into the voting booths.
The question for the anti-war movement is: How does change really happen? What kind of movement do we need?
Throughout history, profound social changes have come not from persuading politicians to do the right thing, but from working-class struggle. The mass protests of today can inspire the strikes of tomorrow. The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators today can give encouragement to the soldiers in the U.S. military who oppose the war and want to organize against it within the military. But in order to inspire the greater struggles ahead, the anti-war movement needs a clear, struggle-oriented perspective that can at every step answer the question posed on every picket line and struggle: Which side are you on?
As anti-imperialists and revolutionaries in the Party for Socialism and Liberation, we look for ways to help facilitate the working class in realizing its power and potential to change society. First and foremost, we must stand in solidarity with those targeted by and in struggle against imperialism. We must organize to build a movement that is class-conscious and independent, one that can break away from supporting one wing of the ruling class. Finally, we must continue to struggle—no matter what the obstacles—because it is through the struggle that solidarity is forged, consciousness is raised and the fight against war becomes transformed into a revolutionary struggle against capitalism itself.