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May 2004 • Vol 4, No. 5 •

This Is Not Vietnam: But It Comes Close

By Roland Sheppard

President Bush is right, the Iraq War is not the Vietnam War, although both wars were and are waged in violation of those nations right to self-determination, against the wishes of and opposition to each nation’s masses.

But this is a different time.

The American policy during the Vietnam War was “guns and butter,” because the labor movement had not yet been totally housebroken. Rank-and-file union militants were still strong enough to force the bureaucracy from time to time to put up a somewhat more effective fight. Thus workers could not easily be induced to sacrifice for the war effort as they had during the first few years of World War II. An effective subway strike in NYC in 1965, for instance, demonstrated that they could not easily police the workers during the Vietnam War.

They had to especially placate the civil rights movement and the struggle for Black Liberation at that time, which also reflected and identified with the struggle for liberation in Africa.

The U.S. helped the Baathists take power in Iraq in 1973 in order to crush a potentially revolutionary workers’ movement in that country. And later, in 1979, when Saddam had become Iraqi president and unchallenged leader of the counter-revolutionary Baathist Party, they provided him with poison gas and other weapons of mass destruction. That is, the U.S. aimed to use Saddam Hussein as a weapon against the revolutionary Iranian threat to continued U.S. imperialist domination over Middle Eastern oil.

However, the U.S. turned against Saddam Hussein after the Iranian threat had been eliminated and Saddam sought to gain hegemony for his national interests over the oil-producing nations of the region. In other words, Iraq thought he could do what Iran had been blocked from doing with his indispensable aid and assistance to American imperialism. But before Saddam had put the first phase of his plan into operation—stopping Kuwait from “slant-drilling” into Iraqi oil wells—he asked the U.S. ambassador for U.S. permission.

Permission was granted, but his reward for doing American imperialism’s dirty work against Iran was the first U.S. military assault on the innocent people of Iraq in 1991 and Saddam Hussein, who raked its chestnuts out of the Iranian fire.

In 1985-86, the USSR bureaucracy then led by Stalinist leader Mikhail Gorbachev, faced with mounting anti-Stalinist pro-socialist rebellions in most of Eastern Europe, decided that the best defense of the Stalinist bureaucracy’s privileges would be by making peace with world imperialism by instituting a policy of capitalist restoration under the slogan of “Glasnost” (bourgeois democratic reforms) and a year later “Perestroika” (restructuring the economy along capitalist lines).

By 1979, the Soviet Union had been so weakened by the Stalinist policy of capitalist restoration that the United States was less constrained by the Soviet challenge. And, of course, after Boris Yeltsin had replaced Gorbachev and dissolved the Soviet Union, there was nothing standing in the way, it seemed, of the one remaining superpower taking full control over the entire world.

A “New World Order” was established, when the United States engaged in the first war on Iraq. The United States felt it was a little freer to build a “Pax Americana.” The U.S. declared itself to be the rulers and arbitrators of the world! Things have only escalated; the United States has been on one imperialist adventure after another ever since.

The problem of misleadership on every level

On the domestic front in the late 1960s, the ruling capitalist class instituted the so-called “War on Poverty.” That was when the term “Poverty Pimps” originated. The term aptly described the buying off of many grass-roots leaders of the Black and Chicano struggles by giving them what were well-paid, but powerless jobs as token “administrators.”

The trade union leadership and the Communist Party had long before been bought off by the ruling class after they had become the most notorious advocates of the no-strike pledge and other anti-labor policies during World War II. But there was still a large layer of militant trade unionists who still exerted considerable pressure against the pro-capitalist policies of the labor bureaucracy and its Stalinist allies. That’s the only thing that can explain the big strikes of the 1960s extending somewhat into the 1970s—but with labor power steadily being eroded by the bureaucratic brake on workers’ power.

Since the defeat of the PATCO strike in 1981, the trade union bureaucracy, with the indispensable aid of the Taft-Hartley Act, has been able to establish a virtual bureaucratic dictatorship over the unions. They have done their best to transform the unions into wage- and benefit-cutting instruments of the capitalist class, all in the name of a “Labor/Capital Partnership”—to paraphrase the words of AFL-CIO President Sweeny and his bureaucratic henchmen.

They are partners with U.S. capitalism’s war upon the world, whose openly stated goal is to reduce U.S. labor costs so that corporate America can outsell its major competitors around the world and partly counteract the tendency of the profit rate to decline.

This whole process has been “globalized.” The U.S. capitalists are “globalizing” wages and working conditions and outsourcing jobs to cheap-labor countries, putting more pressure on the race to the bottom by the labor bureaucrats in all the world’s most advanced industrial countries.

The trade union bureaucracy, unalterably oriented to its stated policy of a partnership between bosses and bureaucrats, are absolutely opposed to any policy to revitalize the unions and fight back. This is simply because it requires mobilizing the ranks for a fight and encouraging rank-and-file initiative.

That, in turn, would require the restoration of the fundamental principle of militant and effective trade unionism, which is impossible without genuine, uninhibited rank-and-file democracy. The bureaucrats know that once their obstruction of union democracy was ended, it would result in the end of their bureaucratic dictatorship and an end to $200,000 salaries for union officials at the highest echelons of the AFL-CIO bureaucratic hierarchy.

Today, the U.S. Government is waging war and attacking every gain made by the working class, by women, by Blacks, and by other oppressed sectors of the working and middle classes. They have the mistaken belief that they have no opposition. Iraq is proving them wrong.

The overall historic struggle for a democratic human society—which today can only be effectively waged by the strategy of class struggle—will find new forms of struggl. It will also make workers existing institutions fully able to defend and advance the living standards of the working class as a whole.

Class collaboration—whether it’s called business unionism or labor-capital partnership—has never been an effective alternative. The future of the working class, and the human race as a whole, is now at stake and will be decided in the months and years immediately ahead. And the only force that can stop the accelerating descent of humanity into barbarism and worse, is the revolutionary world working class.





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