Write us!

December 2002 • Vol 2, No. 11 •

How to Fight Imperialist War

By Nat Weinstein

In the October edition of this magazine, this writer argued that the real motive for the so-called war on terrorism is to prepare for a generalized global war on the world working class and its natural allies. In that article1 the point was made that imperialism had good reason to believe that the deepening global economic crisis is unstoppable.

With the specter of another Great Depression hanging over their heads, the world’s capitalist rulers also know that when the developing economic crisis breaks out of control, it will range more broadly and deeply than in the Great Depression of the 1930s. Consequently, the effect of economic collapse on the working masses will sharply accelerate the decades-long decline in living standards.

Working people, as we are already seeing in some of the world’s most developed countries like Britain, France and Italy, will have no choice but to fight back, and as living standards fall, class struggle will erupt and sweep around the world.

We have more than once noted in the pages of this magazine and elsewhere that among the factors contributing heavily to the potential destructiveness of the next major crisis of overproduction is the mountain of debt weighing down on every capitalist country today, including here at home.

We have also noted that in contrast to the time of the Great Depression, when most of the world was then in debt to American capitalism, the entire world today, including the United States, is heavily indebted to privately owned banks and other financial institutions.

Consequently, when the developing crisis of overproduction breaks out of control it will bring the global capitalist monetary system crashing down along with the almighty U.S. dollar.

The evidence is piling up that the combined crisis of depression and inflation (resulting in a fall in the value of money) wll precipitate the mother of all economic, social and political crises. That, in a nutshell, is what is driving U.S.-led world imperialism toward a global war without end.

The falling profit rate

It’s no accident that the terms Armageddon and Apocalypse have popped up in the news media with unusual frequency in recent years. Even the movie about the horror that was Vietnam—Apocalypse Now!—could just as well have been so titled as a prophetic warning of things to come.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union leading to its dissolution in 1992 and to the decomposition of the states created in its image also gave a huge impulse to the expansion of global capitalism into the post-capitalist economies of Eastern Europe and China. It gave world capitalism a powerful but surprisingly short extension of its lease on life.

But the expansionist impulse given the world economy by the Soviet collapse has run its course and has had the effect of intensifying the root cause of the ever-deepening, many-sided crises of capitalism—that is, the long-term tendency of the average rate of profit to fall.

The falling profit rate has led to sharpening competition between each and every capitalist, and that in turn has deepened the competition between capitalist states for a share of the shrinking world market for its goods, and to the desperate search for new places to invest its surplus capital. At the same time, capitalists desperately seek to make up for falling profits by squeezing more out of the hides of working people who are, after all, the sole producers of surplus value.

This ongoing process of intensification of the rate of exploitation tends to go beyond the mere extraction of surplus value. Capitalists, faced by profits falling below an acceptable minimum, drive toward digging ever deeper into the share of the labor product required for maintaining the life of workers and their dependents.

An editorial in the New York Times (December 1, 2002) titled, “The Hypocrisy of Farm Subsidies,” illustrates the dynamic of the profit system that leads toward the absolute impoverishment of the Third World. In its own way the Times confirms this global downward trend in mass living standards.

The editors pretend to be shocked by the policy of the Bush Administration, which had raised farm subsidies by “up to $180 billion over the next decade.” They point out that the huge subsidies the U.S. pays to farmers allows them to sell their products abroad at prices “20 percent below their actual cost of production.” The effect on the world’s poorest countries, the Times says in one of its rare moments of truth-telling, “goes to the very heart of what is keeping the underdeveloped world underdeveloped.” That’s quite an admission.

The editors point out, moreover, in a lame attempt to deflect some of the blame, that “the United States is hardly alone” in keeping the underdeveloped world underdeveloped.

The editors write:

A healthy, export-oriented farm sector, based on the cheap land and labor that many poor countries have in abundance, ought to be the first step on the ladder of economic development. But across Africa, South Asia and Latin America, that path out of poverty has been perversely blocked by the subsidies the United States, Europe, Japan and other rich countries pay their most affluent farmers and agricultural businesses. The developed world pays out more than $300 billion a year in farm subsidies, seven times what it gives in development aid.

But the editors pleas are also an act of hypocrisy because they know that the only effect of this protest against self-defeating greed is to sustain the myth that there is a “lesser evil” that has a heart and cares about the poor.

The Times also refers to the astonishing fact that in the world’s poorest countries, “some three billion people live on less than $2 a day apiece.”

That amounts to half the world’s six billion people! But even that report serves to conceal more than it reveals. The editors don’t bother to mention the untold hundreds of millions or more who are forced to try to live on $3 or $4 a day, which even in those parts of the world is not enough to keep body and soul together.

Nor do the figures cited by the Times include the many desperate human beings (some with jobs!) who must try to get by on “public assistance” in the United States and other of the world’s richest countries. And when you figure into the statistics, such things as social security taxes, income, and sales taxes, and the scores of millions of unemployed and under-employed in the world’s richest countries, the picture of world poverty is even bleaker. A rough estimate of the total figure, when all factors contributing to the number are taken into account, may add up to as much as two-thirds of the human inhabitants of the planet Earth living short and miserable lives unnecessarily.

The Times concludes with this warning of terrible things to come if the “leaders and the public” don’t take remedial action:

Continuing on the present perverse course will feed social instability and environmental devastation throughout the developing world. It will mean increased illegal migration to fill agricultural and other jobs in richer countries, instead of increased jobs and incomes in the third world. Any serious effort to combat extreme poverty, promote third world development and share the benefits of globalization more fairly must begin with a radical assault on agricultural subsidies. It must begin now.

To be sure, they know that the “public” has nothing to say about what the “leaders” do. And they know the leaders can’t do anything about it because the system will not allow it. The system is all about profits; and when profits fall, the system itself begins falling. And like the world behind Alice’s looking glass, where a queen must run just to stay where she is, profits must also be increased in an ultimately futile attempt to counter the falling rate of profit.

The coming showdown and the ‘War on Terrorism’

Underscoring the significance of the growing misery of billions of working people, in rich and poor countries alike, is its having occurred during a prolonged period of prosperity. And when the bottom drops out of the faltering global economy, all existing manifestations of the social, economic, political and military crises of capital will coalesce, precipitating revolutionary uprisings first here, then there and not long from now, everywhere. That’s why the leaders of world imperialism are preparing for the coming showdown by launching the War on Terrorism.

Many have noted that this is the first time that a war has been declared against an abstraction called terrorism and not merely a war against any one or more countries. And if the reason for the War on Terrorism wasn’t clear when it was approved by a near unanimous vote of Congress it is obvious now. It gives the Commander-in-Chief of American imperialism—whoever that happens to be in the years ahead—a free hand to launch an assault on any other country standing in the way of advancing the predatory interests of American capitalism.

Afghanistan and Iraq are only the first of many more to come.

The workers’ united front and the global antiwar movement

The antiwar movement today, like the one that contributed decisively to end the Vietnam War, is composed of united front-type coalitions. That’s the simple idea of uniting all opponents of imperialist war for the struggle against the war-makers—greatly strengthening the antiwar movement.

The tendency to lend more than a measure of support to each other’s actions mitigates somewhat the existing divisions, and is a reflection of the objective tendency toward unification that led to their spontaneous formation in the many towns and cities of the nation. In fact, as the opposition to the war has grown, the realization of the urgent need for unity has also been growing. But since there is no guarantee that one big united front against the War on Terrorism will automatically be realized, it’s necessary to consciously work for the most powerful possible united national and international movement against this war.

Already, the more advanced class consciousness of the European working class—along with growing mass opposition to American imperialist foreign policy—has resulted in demonstrations of close to half a million and more in British, French, Italian and Spanish cities. These demonstrations, like those in America tend to be accompanied by simultaneous antiwar demonstrations in many other of these countries cities and towns.

Of all the victims of capitalism and imperialism, the workers have had the most experience with the tactic of the united front. It’s incorporated in the historic slogan of the American labor movement, “An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!” Understanding how unions came into existence, first as ad hoc formations and later as permanent institutions, will better illustrate how it works, and why the united front is such an effective tactic.

Unions were originally created spontaneously in response to a generalized capitalist attack on their wages and other factors affecting their lives. Similarly the antiwar movement has come into existence because of the impact on their lives of imperialist war.

It doesn’t take much more than the most limited experience on the job for workers to realize that no matter how skilful at their job they may be, the power of the boss to set wages, hours, and other conditions of work far exceeds that of workers as individuals, and that their bargaining power over the terms of employment is multiplied when they unite.

That’s the objective glue that binds workers together in a labor union. There is also the subjective factor that can strengthen or weaken this glue. That is, in order to take common action in their common interests workers have to come together to collectively decide the terms of employment that are necessary and realizable. And there is no way to do that except democratically. Democracy is also indispensable for deciding on the sort of actions required for achieving their common objectives and the organization required for making their collective activity as effective as possible.

Bureaucratic infringements on union democracy for instance, happens to be a big problem in the labor movement today. Two examples of the many recent cases in which union leaderships have collaborated with their bosses against the interests of the union and its members are exemplified by the negotiations for new labor contracts between the leaders of the longshore and airline mechanics unions and their respective employers.

By obstructing genuine democratic input by its members, a bureaucratically run union that puts the interests of the workers and their bosses on the same level, demoralizes and alienates its members who are made to feel that there is little difference between bosses and bureaucrats.

The very simple reason this can severely undermine rank-and-file morale, self confidence and fighting spirit is because a strike, which is the most effective way for workers to apply a force counter to the bosses’ power to hire and fire, is the economic equivalent of a military conflict. Moreover, as history demonstrates conclusively, strikes at times tend to become military conflicts. But unlike soldiers who enlist or are conscripted into an army, workers remain volunteers even after they join the union—which becomes a volunteer army in the strike battles that are implicit in almost every strike.

And the only thing standing in the way of workers deserting their union “army” is their confidence in the democratic character of their union and the loyalty of its leaders and members to the aims and purposes of the union.

Moreover, democratic decision-making lets all members know where everyone stands regarding the decisions made. This contributes to the spirit of comradeship (all for one, and one for all) sorely needed by people who must democratically and fraternally decide whether a strike is necessary and then be able to mount a sufficiently powerful fighting force that can put maximum energy behind their demands.

The same principles operating in unions apply just as well to united front-type antiwar coalitions. These are also formations that depend exclusively on maintaining and increasing the voluntary commitment of its members to the struggle against this war.

Consequently, democracy is just as vital to the effectiveness of the antiwar movement as it is to the unions because both are voluntary institutions that must agree on common ends and common means for achieving those ends through collective action.

The only compulsion in any voluntary formation derives directly from the democratically-decided nature of the action, its points of unity, and its date, time and place.

The united front: what it is, and is not

Two more points need to be made regarding the nature of the united front, whether it’s a labor union or an antiwar movement.

First, a united front is not a political party. Its program is limited to one or several points of unity—also to be decided democratically. Moreover, in order to mobilize the largest possible action—which is what helped bring the war in Vietnam to an end—the demands must be focused and cannot encompass every conceivable political question. However, that doesn’t exclude democratic discussion over all the many political questions that relate to the purposes of a union or an antiwar coalition. Neither does it exclude any political current so long as it supports the aims and purposes adopted by its participants.

(Even political parties, by the way, which have programs covering every aspect of social, economic and political life in the country and the world, understand that when mass action is called for, the demands must be sharply focused in order to maximize the size and effectiveness of the action.)

But for the united front, which is necessarily composed of groups and individuals with a variety of political positions, democracy doesn’t end with a vote on the demands that are the basis for united action. Individuals and groups who agree with the basic demands of the action have the right to continue to advocate supplementary slogans directed to various sectors of society or calling for more specific demands.

Thus, during the years of the Vietnam War, for instance, the united front coalitions tended to be able to reach agreement only on the slogan, “End the War in Vietnam!” There were, however, differences over how best to appeal to the public to join the movement against the war.

The two main disputed slogans were one demanding that the U.S. negotiate an end to the war. The other was the simple demand, to bring American troops home now. The first, implies the right of the U.S. to determine the internal affairs of the Vietnamese people, and the second insists on the Vietnamese people’s right to self determination.

But the right of each participant to advance any slogan they favored—while marching together under a banner demanding an end to the Vietnam War—was consistent with the democratic principle underlying the united front.

(As the war continued and increasing numbers of American youth were being shipped home in body bags, the great majority of those marching against the war began carrying home-made signs demanding “Bring our boys home Now!” while the signs calling for “Negotiate Now!” steadily declined from many to few.)

What a fully developed united front looks like

A genuine united front is more than a collection of individuals and groups of various kinds. A true united front includes organizations like the unions and other mass organizations including those with the most to lose and the least to gain from imperialist war—those sent to kill and be killed.

The most common present-day example of an authentic workers’ united front is the local union, and the federation of local unions in the same industry or trade, such as the United Auto Workers or the International Association of Machinists. And the logic of such a movement has led to the formation of a federation encompassing all unions in America. Thus, the AFL-CIO is the highest expression in the United States and Canada of the workers’ united front.

But there is no good reason to stop there. The ultimate expression of the workers’ united front doesn’t stop at the artificial barriers erected between the world’s workers dividing one country from another.

Thus a real united front that could bring a rapid end to the so-called “War on Terrorism” is one that includes a section of the AFL-CIO. In the meantime, the number of unions adopting antiwar resolutions is still small but is increasing in number. But the number of unions participating in the antiwar movement will grow into a flood as this war progresses and its terrible consequences begin hitting home to millions. After all, those who suffer most in every war are the workers and their natural allies among the many sectors of society victimized by capitalism. Just imagine the impact on the war-makers when even just a few powerful international unions have joined the antiwar united front?

We will conclude by taking a glance back at history showing what history has to say about the dynamic interrelationship between war and revolution.

A brief history of war and revolution

The lessons derived from the victories and defeats that constitute the history of class struggle are applicable to all social, economic and political questions facing the great majority of the world’s peoples who are victims of the profit system. And because wars tend to intensify the rate of exploitation, it explains why most anti-capitalist revolutions in modern history have been a by-product of war.

Thus, the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) was followed by the Paris Commune, the first working-class revolutionary government to hold state power, albeit only in the city of Paris and only for a couple of months before it was crushed mercilessly by a united front of the French and German armies against the united workers of Paris.

The First World War ended a year after the great Russian Socialist Revolution, and the lessons of that revolution have special application to the problem of the workers’ united front and democracy. The soviets (councils) of workers and soldiers were classic examples of the true united front. The soviets included delegates representing the mass economic and political organizations of the working class and those of its allies. The soldiers soviets included delegates representing entire military units of the Czarist army as well as delegates from Russia’s naval units. And the peasant soviets were made up of delegates representing entire peasant communities.

In fact, the world’s first socialist revolution was carried out by the All Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers, Soldiers and Peasants deputies under the slogan, “All Power to the Soviets!” This was the highest expression in history of workers democracy and the united front.

The Second World War also was followed by national revolutions in Africa and combined national and socialist revolutions in Asia and many countries in Eastern Europe. These historical experiences suggest that as wars involve larger numbers of people, and with that ever-larger numbers of victims, their revolutionary impact on mass consciousness grows proportionately.

The historical evidence confirms the dynamic interconnection between war and revolution. And today we are staring into the terrible face of the first combined predatory and counter-revolutionary global war in world history that will not end so long as capitalism rules over world society.

Consequently, the most pressing immediate task of those in opposition to the war gathering force before our eyes today is to build a mass, democratic, united front—an antiwar movement that can force the war-makers to desist from their plan to unleash the most formidable arsenal of weapons of mass destruction on the exploited and oppressed peoples of the world who yearn for an end to hunger, oppression and imperialist war.

1 “U.S. Imperialism Prepares for Global Class War,” Socialist Viewpoint, vol. 2, No. 9, October 15, 2002.





Write us