How to End the War

By Carole Seligman

Ending the war on Iraq, and Afghanistan, is a completely different proposition than ending the U.S. war against Vietnam over 30 years ago. Then, the Vietnamese people carried out a popular social revolution along with a war of national liberation from imperialism (French, Japanese, and American). An enormous international movement of opposition to the war and solidarity with the Vietnamese people combined with the efforts of the Vietnamese to rid themselves of foreign domination to force the U.S. out. In the course of the war, in which several million Vietnamese were killed, wounded, and tortured by the American invasion, bombing, and use of chemical weapons, the American people in their majority turned against the war, mobilizing massive, unprecedented demonstrations and the American fighting force became an ineffective one from the point of view of the U.S. ruling class.

But, there is much today’s antiwar movement can learn from the successful movement against the Vietnam war. Just like the Vietnamese, the Iraqi people do not want foreign troops in their country. The Iraqis want to control their own natural resources, and understand that the U.S. has invaded their country in order to own and control the oil, which is the lifeblood of American capitalism. The American invasion of Iraq is even more directly tied to propping up the American capitalist system than the war in Vietnam was. Both wars were economic booms to the vast military-industrial war corporations, which are central pillars of the U.S. economy. The U.S. produced and continues to produce and use massive quantities of disposable product—ammunition and weapons that are destroyed immediately in their use.

A major difference between the conditions in the U.S. during the Vietnam War and the war on Iraq is the relative prosperity of the 1960s and 70s for American workers and their more difficult situation today. Union membership is way down. The two-tier (and more tiers) pay schedule which began to be introduced in the 1980s in most key industries now are having their effect on the children of those workers back then. The two-and-more-tier system means that new hires in basic industries will never earn what their parents did. Millions of workers have been displaced from streamlined industries and manufacturing jobs, which have been shifted to low-wage countries by the capitalist owners. Capitalist globalization has greased the easy flow of capital between countries, tearing down borders for capital, and erecting higher walls for workers, even while forcing tens of millions of them to migrate in search of jobs. Twelve million undocumented immigrants are living in the U.S. with only the right to be super-exploited.

The existence of the military draft during the Vietnam War combined with the huge influx of children of the working class into college, propelled the youth into action. They turned a small antiwar movement into a massive one, with millions marching in the streets against the war. The backbone of the antiwar movement was the youth organized in independent organizations on most college campuses and eventually on high school and middle school campuses as well. Black community opposition to the war, which was already very deep, fueled in part by the distrust of the white ruling class and disproportionate numbers of casualties of Black soldiers, was mobilized by Martin Luther King’s embrace of the antiwar cause in 1968. The Chicano community also moved into active opposition with the Chicano Moratorium demonstration in East Los Angeles in 1970, the first overwhelmingly working class demonstration against the Vietnam War. The oppressed did not want to serve the oppressor—the American government—in oppressing others.

The antiwar movements that arose in opposition to every U.S. war since Vietnam—the Gulf War, the war on Yugoslavia, the wars on Afghanistan and Iraq—have the advantage of the memories of a whole generation who acted in some capacity to help end the Vietnam War. The socialist workers’ organizations who helped lead, or play an active role in, the earlier movement are also still around (though with smaller numbers) to help keep some of the lessons of that movement alive for use by this one. But there are important differences that must be taken into account in trying to develop plans for building a massive movement to end the war.

A big difference today is that there is no draft and young people in high school and college during a time of economic uncertainty about their futures are not yet playing a leadership role in the antiwar movement. There has not been a huge development of independent committees of activists opposed to the war. Many of the existing antiwar committees and organizations are led by activists of political organizations with developed programs. Some of these have political commitments to ruling class politics in that they support Democratic party candidates or Green Party politics. These politics hinder the development of real independence from the war makers.

A big difference that has developed recently is the high-powered effort by the ruling class and both of its major political entities, the Democratic and Republican Parties—both of whom bear responsibility for waging and funding the war—to channel all political discourse, including opposition to the war, into the electoral process. Suddenly, an electoral political period that previously lasted only several months has been expanded by state legislatures (some controlled by Republicans, some by Democrats) in a bi-partisan attempt to co-opt any expression of independent politics.

Now, the 2008 presidential election period has already been going on for about a year and will continue and intensify for the next year. So we’ll witness over two years of politicking by the Democrat and Republican candidates, with hardly a dime’s worth of difference between them, and all of them fully committed to the capitalist private profit system which relies on a war economy to function profitably. The purpose of this is to try to trick the American people into believing that redress of their grievances against the Bush regime can be found in the election of a new administration. The purpose is to draw people into capitalist politics and away from independent politics. Street demonstrations represent independent politics. Street demonstration to end the war now and bring U.S. troops home now are independent of the capitalist parties and candidates. None of the capitalist candidates are calling for ending the war by withdrawing from it immediately. All want to win militarily or offer a way to stay on top of Iraq’s oil through re-deploying troops outside of Iraq’s borders, or some other kind of proposal that violates Iraqi sovereignty and self-determination.

Just like in the time of the Vietnam War, the U.S. working class has no political party of its own to fight for its interests against war. And, like the 1960s and 70s, the leadership officers of the unions are tied to the Democratic Party politicians, making them unable and unwilling to represent the interests of their members either on the job for good pay, decent conditions, and benefits, or on the national political scene for socialized medicine, schools, peace, housing, and human rights. This vacuum of leadership means that atomized antiwar activists are forced to create a mass movement, which will draw in the working class majority. They need to organize a means of building a mass movement in the absence of a mass working class political party—thus the antiwar coalition.

During the rise of fascism in Germany there were huge working class political parties who could have stopped the Nazis if they had come together, defended, instead of fighting each other, and formed a united front to do this. These parties represented a majority of the German population, but their failure to come together to fight Hitler made his assumption of power possible.

This negative lesson from history informs those who call for an antiwar united front. Even though there are not mass working class political entities fighting against the war, it is still possible to bring workers into action by using a tactic that comes out of the workers movement—the mass street demonstration. But, the only way to make such demonstrations really bring out the maximum number of opponents of the war is for individual organizations to join together in united action.

This united approach is gaining ground. The two major national antiwar coalitions, United for Peace and Justice (UFPJ), and Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition), have brought out huge numbers of people opposed to the war in street demonstrations over the four years of the war, but the two groups have often been at odds and they have organized separate actions. Motions were even passed in UFPJ leadership bodies not to collaborate or co-sponsor demonstrations with A.N.S.W.E.R. However, Last May, A.N.S.W.E.R. called for united actions to fight against the war, and this past summer, both organizations called for mass regional antiwar protests for the same date, Oct. 27th.

In the San Francisco Bay Area, the A.N.S.W.E.R. Coalition initiated a mass meeting and both groups as well as many other organizations have come together to establish a coalition, the Oct. 27th Coalition. But, everyone in the coalition realizes that the war will not end on Oct. 28th. This group, shows signs (as of this writing) of not only organizing a massive demonstration on Oct. 27th, but of keeping the coalition together and proceeding to organize a mass demonstration for the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq. This is a process that needs to take place nationally and in every city and antiwar organizing center.

An antiwar movement, of course, is more than periodic mass street demonstrations. It is, above all, a massive organizing campaign of public education that empowers people to oppose the government and even the system as a whole. Such a campaign of public education against the war needs to be carried into every community where working people live and congregate, to every religious congregation where people worship, to every school, workplace, and military base. The existing antiwar movement needs to adopt the strategy of building a unified mass movement and announcing this to the population as a whole.

At the minimum, the movement must recognize that there is strength in numbers. The numbers of people against the war who are willing to act on that position is really the only strength we have at this stage. But, huge demonstrations can do things that will set a process in motion that can actually end the war, and there are indications that this is starting to happen. Soldiers can stop a war if they won’t fight it. Workers can stop a war if they won’t build war material or let it be transported to the theater of war. Workers can stop a war if they refuse to join the military. Of course, if these kinds of antiwar actions were to take place, then the creation of a new society will be on the agenda, a new society based on human solidarity and an end to war forever. Bring it on.