November 2003 Vol 3, No. 10
The Deepening Radicalization of America
This edition of Socialist Viewpoint focuses on the surprisingly large number of recent reports signaling the beginning of a rapidly growing demand by GIs in Iraq to Bring Us Home Now!
Somewhat less surprising are reports, as we shall see in the following articles, of a growing movement by the families of GIs supporting an end to the occupation of Iraq and the return of their loved ones, alive.
This development comes only months after more than 10 million people in the worlds major cities and towns had marched on the weekend of February 15-16, 2003; with well over a million marching in American cities in a desperate effort to stop the invasion of Iraq before it began. However, in defiance of the will of the peoples of the world, the invasion of Iraq was launched six weeks later.
But thats not all. Along with the mass outpouring of antiwar protestors, there has also been a steadily deepening radicalization of the American people that is broader than the radicalization of the 1960s and 70s. The current radicalization is a continuation and deepening of the one precipitated by the Vietnam War. One of the manifestations of its profound deepening is the speed with which the slogan, Bring the Troops Home Now! has been adopted by virtually the entire Iraq antiwar movement.
This demand has been embraced by the entire movement only months after the beginning of the war; while it took some six or seven yearsand tens of thousands of GIs shipped home in body bagsbefore it was adopted by the entire Vietnam antiwar movement.
In fact, it was the fear of another Vietnam antiwar movementthe so-called, Vietnam Syndromewhich forced the U.S. ruling class to abolish the draft and create a so-called voluntary U.S. armed force.
But while middle class youth, who constituted the vanguard of the antiwar movement thirty years ago, are no longer dragooned into the armed forces, many of todays young workers are driven into the armed forces by the scarcity of jobs paying a living wage. Also driven to serve as cannon fodder are the veterans of previous wars who when discharged signed up in the Reserves or the National Guard to supplement declining real wages.
Moreover, the radicalization of the American people today is driven by much more than the rise in antiwar sentiment. Working people here in the worlds richest country, are being radicalized by decades of downsizing, falling real wages, and the sharp reduction in the social wage.
These attacks on the living standards of American working people have added an anti-capitalist component to todays antiwar movement that was not a part of the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War. It first took the form of the spontaneous appearance of thousands of hand-painted signs reading, No Blood for Oil!, which was also one of the most popular slogans chanted by the millions who marched all over the world in an effort to stop the war before it began.
Other slogans reflecting the growth of mass anti-capitalist consciousness have been appearing, like Money for Human Needs Not War, and others reflecting the stagnating global economy and its impact on mass living standards.
To be sure, such anti-capitalist slogans had appeared during the Vietnam antiwar movement and during the brief outpouring of protestors against the first war on Iraq, but never before have these economic demands been so broadly based among antiwar protestors. That is, at least, not since the Russian Revolution was triggered by the antiwar slogan, Bread, Peace and Land! during the First World War.
The proliferation of demands registering the growth of anti-capitalist consciousness suggests that the American people, who had been noted for being the most politically backward, have come a long way toward catching up with the more advanced political consciousness of hundreds of millions of working people around the world.
It should be no surprise; the unmitigated anti-working-class policies of capitalist America and its bipartisan government over the last several decadessharply intensified during the three years of the George W. Bush administrationhas contributed heavily to the rise in anti-capitalist consciousness. However, we can safely predict that we are only at the very beginning of an even broader and deeper radicalization, as living standards of more millions are steadily driven below the poverty line and the American people suffer both from the economic crisis and predatory wars of conquest, which aggravate its economic effects.
Guns with Butter, versus Guns without Butter
Thus, it can be seen that the most important objective factor explaining the difference in tempo and scope of the movement in opposition to the war on Iraq, as compared to the movement in opposition to the Vietnam War, flows from the difference between the economic conditions prevailing in the world then and now.
When the U.S. war on Vietnam was formally declared on August 10, 19641, the world capitalist economy had been enjoying an unusually long period of relative prosperity that lasted from shortly after the end of the Second World War until the turn of the millennium. American and world capitalism had been expanding into every corner of the planet for more than a half-century.
In fact, between 1964 and 1973, the decade of the Vietnam War, the global capitalist economy appeared to be so strong, and capitalist America so rich, that it could afford to fight a major war based on a policy of guns and butter. That is, the government at that time could afford to spend billions of dollars in its effort to crush the Vietnamese revolution, while allowing American workers to enjoy a relatively high standard of living, as compared to their counterparts around the world.
Moreover, then-president, Lyndon B. Johnson, could afford to mobilize support for the war on Vietnam by launching his so-called War on Poverty! (While this war did little to raise the living standards of the poverty-stricken, it allowed the capitalist government to buy off and house-break their leaders with relatively well-paying jobs as local administrators of the anti-poverty campaign.)
But capitalist America cannot afford such a policy today. On the contrary, it is compelled to carry out a combined war against the people of Iraq and upon the American working class and its allies.
Thus, rather than the conquest over Saddam Hussein bringing in enough profits to pay for the war, while at the same time strengthening U.S. control over the world supply of oil, the war on Iraq has become a military, social, economic and political liability. And rather than the Iraqi adventure leading to new investment opportunities and expanded profits to offset capitalist Americas falling rate of profit, it is aggravating the U.S. economic crisis and, by the same token, is contributing to the deepening of global capitalisms economic crisis.
Capitalist America has over-estimated its military power, underestimated the capacity for resistance of the Iraqi and Middle Eastern masses, underestimated the power of world public opinion, underestimated the intelligence of the American people and, last, but not least, underestimated the resistance of its GIs and their families to paying for oil with their blood and lives.
The radicalization of American GIs is, perhaps, the most significant development of all. It shows that despite the abolition of the draft in order to escape the consequences of the Vietnam Syndrome, American imperialism now faces an antiwar movement far more powerful than during Vietnam.
The significance of this unparalleled level of antiwar consciousnessaccompanied by an unprecedented eruption of anti-capitalist consciousness in the belly of the American imperialist beastcannot be overstated. We live at a time when the crisis of imperialist decay has created a world permanently at war. It is essentially a war between classes, the ruling capitaliststhe haveson one side, and its rebellious victimsthe have-notson the other.
Its significance is underscored when we remember that every successful social revolution in history has required, in the final analysis, the active support of a majority of the working class and its natural allies including those of its members among the armed forces of the capitalist state!
1 The purely formal U.S. war to suppress the revolutionary struggle by the people of Vietnam for independence began with the adoption of the so-called Gulf of Tonkin resolution by Congress on August 10, 1964. While President Lyndon B. Johnson sponsored and signed the resolution authorizing the war on the people of Vietnam, U.S. military intervention had actually been initiated by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 with his deployment of U.S. military forces in Vietnam as advisors to the puppet government previously installed by French imperialism to rule South Vietnam.