Which Way for the Antiwar Movement?

By Carole Seligman and Bonnie Weinstein

Antiwar activists representing many different groups, as well as independents, will meet in Cleveland, Ohio, June 28 and 29, 2008, at the first National Assembly to End the Iraq War and Occupation. The purpose of the weekend conference is to discuss plans and possibilities for unified national actions against the war.

The challenge for this gathering is big. The ruling class, by extending the election season to well over a year, has succeeded in sidetracking the national antiwar movement at the very moment when it came to represent majority opposition to the war. So, as the war escalated, mass street demonstrations of opposition declined, and all national attention was focused on the primary elections by the capitalist media.

The ruling class has also succeeded again in co-opting most of the organized labor movement into capitalist electoral politics. The working class has been led by its misleaders into the election farce. The union bureaucrats act as if working people had something to gain in this election although both the Democrat and Republican Parties represent big business and carry out the agenda of big business, not the working class. The union leaders, instead of mobilizing union members to defend their jobs, wages, and benefits, and organizing to gain better wages and conditions for the working class as a whole, are using vast union resources to help the Democratic Party elect Obama as president and other million and billionaire Democratic Party politicians to Congress.

The lack of a nationally coordinated demonstration on the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq revealed the terrible reality that the antiwar movement was demobilized and disoriented, just when it needed to act. It must be understood that many of the corporations who profit from the war economy own the major media outlets, so it is easy to see how the whole public political arena is manipulated by the ruling class through the capitalist-owned media. This manipulation certainly contributed to the demobilization of the movement.

Antiwar movement sidetracked by the elections

The elections are sidetracking the movement both directly and indirectly. Directly, many activists who have worked to mobilize public opinion against the war are now spending their time campaigning for the candidate they mistakenly think will end the war, Barack Obama.

Indirectly, many antiwar activists are making major concessions to the Democratic Party by limiting their antiwar protest to the war on Iraq, and not including the other shooting war the U.S. is waging on Afghanistan. U.S. soldiers are bombing Afghans. Afghan civilians are being killed by American soldiers (and those of Canada and other “coalition” regimes under U.S. leadership.)

And, we cannot forget that the U.S. government has already engaged in acts of war and is threatening more open war on Iran; is funding Israel’s war on the Palestinian people; is blockading Cuba, and threatening Venezuela; carrying out military actions in the guise of the so-called anti-drug war in Colombia, and preparing for more acts of aggression through upgrading its nuclear arsenal and its 700-plus bases all around the globe.

“Stop the War on Afghanistan,” must be a main demand

This article argues that the antiwar movement must organize against the actual shooting wars the U.S. is waging now. For the antiwar movement not to include opposition to the war on Afghanistan is an intolerable concession to the Democratic Party and the ruling class. It’s a concession to all those supporters of the war on Afghanistan who object to the war on Iraq, but not to the permanent war economy, the U.S. nuclear arsenal, the fact that the U.S. spends more on war and preparations for war than the rest of the countries of the world combined! It is a concession to the bi-partisan U.S. foreign policy of aggression and theft in which both Republicans of the Neanderthal Bush regime and the slick, deceptive operatives of the Democratic Party vote together to make war on unarmed, poor and working class people around the world.

Some Democrats who claim to oppose the war on Iraq actually argue for moving troops from the Iraq theatre to the so-called “War on Terror” against “Al Qaeda” and the “Talliban”—or anyone they can label as such—in Afghanistan. Here’s how a June 14 New York Times editorial entitled, “A Moment of Clarity in Baghdad,” argued a ruling class “antiwar” position:

“It is anyone’s guess how Mr. McCain would continue to pay the multibillion-dollar bill for the war (Mr. Bush has borrowed tremendously from future generations) or deal with the other security challenges facing the United States, including the resurgence of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

What they really seem to be worried about is the fact that people who are losing their homes and jobs may wonder why such a high percentage of the wealth of the country is being spent on war rather than on helping people stay in their homes, avoid bankruptcy, improve schools, gain health care, and re-build a crumbling infrastructure. Why not spend money on such desperately needed projects that would actually create jobs and improve existing conditions for all working people instead of wasting vast sums of money and resources—both human and material—on illegal war and occupation?

And this is an editorial from the New York Times, one of the ruling class’s most important mouthpieces that was instrumental in building the case for war against Iraq in front page articles in 2003; and that backed the faked news releases of the administration about the weapons of mass destruction, the “smoking guns”, and the “mushroom clouds”.

Principled antiwar activists, pacifists, socialists, and others, oppose all imperialist wars, no matter what the ruling class says to justify them.

An historic May Day 2008

Luckily, the example for the movement as a whole was set by the most important antiwar demonstration that did take place so far in the year of the fifth anniversary of the war on Iraq. This was the shutdown of all West Coast ports in the U.S., from Mexico to Canada, on May 1 as a militant workers’ protest demonstration against both the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by the International Long Shore and Warehouse Union, the ILWU. This action not only demonstrated opposition to both the shooting wars of the U.S. government, but it also showed the way forward for the working class by mobilizing worker’s power at the point of production to protest a government policy that is so counter to the interests of the working class as a whole.

Single issue

There is good reason to focus attention on the “single issue” of war by mobilizing street demonstrations calling for an end to the war. Why? War is the central issue of our time. The wars are killing Iraqis and Afghans and U.S.
soldiers now.

Wars for ruling class profit are the main false dividing lines created by the ruling classes to keep the world’s working classes divided. Wars use the major portion of national resources for destruction. The war economy fills the coffers of the super-rich war-profiteers, while stripping the working class of social expenditures for the basic human needs of housing, health care, schools, and transportation. These are all good reasons to focus international collaboration and attention on fighting to end U.S. wars!

The “War on Terror” is a “War of Terror”

But to construe the “single issue” as the war on Iraq only, and exclude the war on Afghanistan, and the war economy that hurts the working class at home, leaves the movement in the untenable position of allowing the ruling class to justify its so-called “War on Terror.” Remember, the post-September 11 U.S. invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was no more justified by the administration and Congress who voted the funding, than the faked basis for the war on Iraq! “The War on Terror” became a justification for an all-aggressive U.S. foreign policy as well as a host of domestic programs to constrict democratic rights, attack immigrants, and justify police state expenditures and methods. But the “War on Terror” is the same war of conquest and plunder of natural resources, including black gold! The War on Terror is a war of terror to conquer and control these resources around the world.

What happened since 2003 is that the war on Iraq created a massive opposition, an antiwar movement. The ruling class’s justification for it as a defense against terrorism (WMD) collapsed in the face of public opinion. Sections of the ruling class decided to try to cut bait by speaking out against the war (but not by voting to cut off the funding for it!) They decided to try to save the “War on Terror” by separating it from the unpopular war on Iraq. This is the meaning of the Democratic Party’s “support” for the anti-war movement.

The movement must remain independent of the war parties

If they are allowed to set the terms of their participation by setting false, or incomplete, demands for the movement, the movement will have one hand tied behind its back going into the ring. And the Democrats, festooned with newly minted antiwar credentials, will proceed to approve a massive increase in the war budget; high-pressure military recruitment of working-class youth including in the public schools; and massive military buildup in the Middle East and around the world.

Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Congressman and former candidate for President, is considered to be the most antiwar Democrat. He recently authored articles of impeachment against President Bush, based on the false basis for the war on Iraq. Kucinich is speaking out publicly for impeachment and campaigning for Barack Obama at the same time.

This two-prong project reveals the impeachment project to be one of limiting opposition to acceptable congressional tactics within the framework of ruling class politics. In other words, its purpose is to make the Democrats look good. If there was the possibility of real redress of grievances against the Bush administration, he and all the politicians who voted to fund his wars would face a war crimes tribunal whose judges would be representatives of the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine, and people like Cindy Sheehan and other victims of the bi-partisan war/s.

This kind of tactic of Kucinich and some of his supporters in the antiwar movement leads the movement away from independence and into the blind alley of electoral politics and support for the Democratic Party as the “road to peace.”

Current American military policy is to use Afghanistan as a giant (and permanent) military base. They would like to send American troops from Iraq to Afghanistan and call that “withdrawal,” and, at the same time, continue to occupy and control Iraqi oil maintained by the private contractors (like Black Water) backed up by the U.S. military.

This is the position of the Democratic Party. If Afghanistan is left out of the antiwar conference's main demand, the movement will be tied to the phony policies of the Democrats and give credence to the illusion that the Democratic Party is opposed to the war, when they are only opposed to losing the war on Iraq and losing control of Iraqi oil for American big business.

It is urgent for the antiwar movement to make a clean break with ruling class politics, with both the Democrat and Republican Parties!

Opposing the war on Afghanistan separates the entire movement from the capitalist warmongers—both Democratic and Republican—and allows it to be a truly independent movement.

The power behind an independentantiwar movement

What we need is a movement that is independent of those in power; that inspires confidence in mass, independent action in the streets; that reaches out to the people who are affected by the astronomical war costs that are extracted from them in myriad ways; that empowers them with democratic decision-making and the power of unified actions and organization; and that can reach out to all communities with a goal of organizing the kind of independent, working-class power needed to shut this country down until the troops are brought home and the massacres are ended!

The May 1 ILWU Port Shutdown in opposition to the war was a bright example of the power working people actually have if they act in unity and solidarity with one another toward such a common goal.

A massive, democratically organized, independent, united movement of working people to oppose all U.S. wars and occupations, including Iraq, Afghanistan, the “War on Terror,” and the war on Palestine—to organize to shutdown production in unity and solidarity against these wars of aggression across the globe; and for the ranks of the U.S. military and the ranks of their allies, to lay down their arms in unity and solidarity with them—is crucial to ending these criminal bloodbaths!

“End the wars, U.S. Out of the Middle East!”

“Stop the War on Terror!”

“End All U.S. Aid to Israel!”

“Bring All the Troops Home Now!

“Fund Human Needs, Not War!”