American Marxists on THE THREE FRONTS OF BUSH’S WAR
THE THREE FRONTS OF BUSH’S WAR
The Three Fronts of Bush’s War
(and how to fight on all of them)
A document by the Executive of Socialist Alternative, the US section of the CWI.
15th October 2001.
This is a general outline of how we think we should intervene in the emerging peace/antiwar movement or, more accurately, the diverse set of emerging movements.
The latter is not a small point. There will not only be coalitions and groups confronting the military war abroad, but also resistance to the new "Patriot" laws against immigrants and civil liberties in general. The recession and attacks against the labor movement could further develop some resistance from the working class that is and will be characterized as "unpatriotic" by the ruling class, de facto casting them as opponents of the Bush administration’s overall war strategy. Coordinating, uniting and developing a strategy for all these movements are crucial. Our ideas and strategy are crucial to successfully building an effective anti-war movement.
We produce this document in the interest of unifying the organization under a general analysis and a common method of intervention to confront the present situation, not for the sake of arguing about differences that naturally flow from the sudden changes in mood and consciousness.
The organization is very weak compared to the tasks it faces. Never in its history has Socialist Alternative encountered a crisis of neither this magnitude nor a situation as complex as we now face. Forming cadre and members prepared to face such situations requires similar situations to have passed before. Most of us do not have experience in events like the present almost complete reversal in the political situation and violent turns of the class struggle.
While learning how to intervene and analyze what is going on, we should take this tremendous opportunity to steel the organization. We should not only resist the pressure of these events, but also redouble our efforts to construct a Socialist Alternative to the crisis.
The Sudden Changes in the Political Situation
In its previous statement, "End the Cycle of Terrorism!" the EC concentrated on the main political aspects of the situation created by the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and gave an example to comrades of how to skillfully and sensitively raise our position in this difficult, complex situation. The statement of the IS of the CWI gave a more general overview of the initial changes in the world situation. We tried to orient the first steps of our intervention, giving hints of where and how to do so. Now, we try to give a more detailed characterization of the political situation and the changed consciousness of workers, youth and the bourgeoisie in order to orient our intervention.
The terrorist attacks changed the US political situation 180 degrees. The Bush administration instantaneously solidified a bipartisan war government and cabinet. In one stroke, his administration obtained bipartisan support unimaginable a month ago. Bush’s poll numbers rose to unparalleled levels, and support for a war of retaliation is at it highest point.
Cynically, the Democrats and Republicans extended this "patriotic" bipartisanship to most areas of government. Not only did they vote almost unanimously for the sweeping "Declaration of War" (minus one), but also unanimously for the war appropriations. Democrats and Republicans now both agree to use Social Security funds for the war preparations.
They also agree on the sweeping anti-immigrant, anti-civil liberties, draft of the "Patriot Bill." This bill effectively suspends all Constitutional guarantees for millions of immigrants, militarizes the border, gives the Department of Justice increased repressive powers, attacking important democratic rights. This introduces elements of bonapartist powers similar to that used in arrests of 10,000s of radical immigrants during World War I and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. This is an attack on the entire working class, and will be eventually used against the left, Labor, and communities of color.
The Bill advances new streamlined authorization for wiretaps, gives the State the right to intercept and monitor communications, all based on vague definitions of "terrorism." It even grants the Department of Justice and the FBI a virtual blank check to determine, without burden of proof, when and how any resident may be arrested or detained without being charged.
The anti-terrorist Bill is being introduced as a compromise between "civil libertarians" and the White House. The "proof" of this, they say, is the inclusion of a provision establishing a special office to address "civil and human rights" in the newly created office of "Homeland Security" – a name that bears ominous resemblance to similar offices established by every dictatorship in the world.
Despite a few protests from some Democrats, they all voted in favor of over $21 billion in bailouts for big airline corporations. There was also bipartisan support for the militarization of airports, extending and broadening the police powers of the INS. Almost nothing has been done for the victims of the terrorist attacks and their relatives or the workers massively lay off by the airlines.
Democrats and Republicans are lining up to swear fealty to the Bush administration. Proposals for capital gains tax cuts for big businesses, national ID cards, cuts in services in favor of military preparations and dozens of other measures have been introduced in order to make the most of the "patriotic" bipartisanship. Democrats and Republicans agree: the working class and the oppressed must foot the bill for the attacks and the "response."
Avenging the Empire
The response of the Bush administration is not merely a military-political response to the acts of terrorism to protect big corporations’ profits of or US interests abroad. There are elements of this in the rationale for the response, but it does not tell the whole story.
The present course of the Bush administration is a full-fledged, imperialist, reactionary military-political-economic offensive to restore the Empire’s shattered prestige and invulnerability. They are preparing the ground to extend that offensive to all present and future challenges to imperialism and capitalism from workers, peasants and youth, the anti-capitalist movement, Labor and the left, domestically and abroad.
The 9/11 attacks were criminally spectacular and had an enormous economic, political and symbolic effect. US Imperialism needs a response as or more spectacular and destructive in order to recover its halo of invincibility. To a great degree, the retaliation needs to demonstrate to the world that the US is and will continue to be Number 1.
Whether Bin Laden and al Qaeda are really responsible of the murders of 9/11 is of little importance to those ordering the bombing raids and the deployment of Special Forces and Navy Fleets. Imperialism knows that the almost universal condemnation and the fear of massive reprisals are preventing those responsible from taking credit for the massacre. The point that Imperialism absolutely needs to make is that attacks and opposition will be met with massive reprisal.
Workers and peasants in the Middle East and Central Asia will certainly count among the first victims of this war. But it would be naïve to think it will end there. The military aspects of Plan Colombia are accelerating, triggered in part by a relatively minor guerrilla group (National Liberation Army – ELN) insane declarations that "the World Trade Center and the Pentagon" were "legitimate targets" and the murders committed on 9/11 "legitimate acts of war."
But Imperialism’s strategy goes much further. They will attempt to use all "anti-terrorist" measures taken now against those allegedly responsible for the attacks on 9/11 against every sign of resistance to capitalism and the rule of imperialism anywhere in the world. This includes a war on workers in the US to force us to foot the bill of the imperialist offensive and keep the labor movement in check. A war targeting our social services, standards of living and democratic rights.
This generalized offensive did not occur to imperialism immediately following the terrorist murders in NY. Imperialism has been trying to impose these measures for decades, but could not due to the resistance of the international working class and the oppressed.
Not even at the lowest level of class struggle of the 90s, was capitalism and imperialism able to execute such a broad and open assault on the democratic, political and economic rights of the working class everywhere. That highlights the reactionary character of the mass murders executed by the terrorists, particularly against the World Trade Center. They served Bush and imperialism the ideological and political justification for this offensive on a silver platter.
While there is not much resistance to Bush and the ruling class at the moment, it is not guaranteed that this plan can be extended to attack all legitimate opponents of capitalism and imperialism without strong resistance of the mass movement domestically and abroad. That’s why the war abroad has to be combined with a major attack on immigrants and civil liberties at home.
The evidence of the investigations conducted by the ruling class itself established that the 19 terrorists responsible for the heinous acts of 9/11 were NOT part of the immigrant communities that came to this country to work and away from poverty and eploitation, and certainly not part of the 10 million undocumented workers living in the US. The terrorists entered the United States on visas issued by US consulates in countries that are allies of the US, like Saudi Arabia.
The US government, however, is undertaking a campaign of hysteria against all immigrants that is mostly directed at Arabs but also Latino immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America. The fact that these immigrants have been in the forefront of organizing unions and winning strikes has more to do with these attacks than anti-terrorism.
The objective is to advance as much as possible in the development of tools to confront future struggles of the working class and the youth while there is still mass support for such measures due to the association of "terrorism" with the sickening images of destruction in NYC. But the proposed legislation has a deliberately vague definition of terrorism. This definition can easily be stretched to include any movement, any party or country that confronts the Empire, whether it is layers of the working class that come out and fight, youth involved in the anti-globalization movement, or legitimate national liberation movements revolting against the domination of imperialist finance capital.
Placing the Working Class, the Oppressed and the Left in the Crossfire
The strategy of the US ruling class places the entire working class and the oppressed in the crossfire between the state and the reactionary terrorists. Bush made it perfectly clear: "You’re either with us or with the terrorists." This message was directed at everyone who does not share the complete imperialist plan for an overall military-political – economic offensive.
This is not a new strategy for the ruling class. Ruling elites, parties, and dictatorships have used it many times when their domination has been challenged at the national level in many different countries. This strategy was the backbone of the struggle against many national liberation movement of past decades. The central idea is to force the working class to take sides and repressing it violently if they choose the "wrong" side. Any independent, class struggle position is spun as tantamount to siding with terrorists.
And terrorists adapt a mirror image of the ideological position of the governments they purport to oppose, by denouncing working class and youth struggles independent of their control as "collaborators" with their enemies. As far as the ruling class and the terrorists are concerned, the best case scenario places workers on the sidelines as simple spectators of the war between the state and the terrorist or other armed, militaristic oppositions. Workers are hampered from developing an independent class position to end the conflict, because both sides murder the leaders of such initiatives.
This "crossfire" strategy, developed into a war of apparatus, is well known by those who fought political battles in the semi-colonial world for decades. The governments of El Salvador and Guatemala in the 80s and early 90s; Argentina, Chile, Uruguay during the "dirty wars" in the 70s; in countries like Northern Ireland for decades; and the savage war between the Peruvian Armed Forces and Shining Path; are but few of the examples of this strategy.
What is new is that this strategy of US Imperialism is now presented as a long-term global program. Those in the line of fire will be the American working class and oppressed and the mass movement around the world.
Domestically, the working class and the youth will pay for the imperialist plan with their taxes. Wages, living standards and social services will be cut in order to cover the bill. Their bodies will be spent abroad, and their civil liberties will be fiercely curtailed at home. The new definition of "terrorism" is so broad that the anti-globalization movement, or even –as the ACLU put it – the pie-throwing tactics of PETA against public officials could be considered "terrorist acts."
Bush’s war has three clear fronts so far: a) War (military interventions abroad); b) attacks against whole layers of the American working class like immigrants, starting with Arabs and Muslims that eventually will be extended to others and; c) major attacks on civil liberties - limited as they are - enjoyed by the American working class.
The Impact on Consciousness
The impact on the consciousness and psyche of all classes in society was tremendous. The emerging anti corporate/anti-capitalist movement was immediately thrown back, overwhelmed by events. For a few days, even the most activist layers of society were stunned. The calls for revenge, retaliation, stereotyping, and racism emerged with a furor reminiscent of previous stages. The killing of Muslims, Sikhs, and hate crimes against Arabs, Muslims, and immigrants rose geometrically, even in traditionally liberal regions, like the SF Bay Area.
The bourgeois circles’ sense of untouchability and security was shaken. Bush’s hiding for an entire day before returning to Washington, the immediate isolation of the two Constitutional heirs to the Presidency in case of emergency (the Vice President and the Speaker of the House); emerge as symbols of this fear. CNN reported that since September 11, sales of heavy weaponry, armored cars and the hiring of bodyguards have risen 500%. The instincts of the ruling class were to hide and lash out.
The present consciousness of pro-war layers of society is not as homogeneous as it seems in the upper circles of the ruling class. It would be a tremendous misreading of the situation were comrades to dismiss the differences that exist among the pro-war masses who, out of anger, confusion and a sense of loss of security and predictability were welded together the first few weeks following the attacks. Those differences are starting to reemerge, and show important present and potential cracks in this imperialist "united front."
There are, of course, ideologically firm layers of the population that propose to extend the war completely to the domestic front. And they are not only the fundamentalist right wing, but also elements of mainstream society. From those layers came the firebombs thrown against mosques and Arab and Muslim places of business, the lynch mobs who marched on minority neighborhoods, and the hands that shot several people.
These layers, however, are not the majority of the population, or even of the pro-war crowd. There are others that, while supporting an all out war against countries and groups suspected of terrorism, do not want this done at the expense of civil liberties. Even some conservative ideologues, right wing bourgeois libertarians and, of course, the most liberal elements of the middle classes can be counted among them. This layer also includes union activists, immigrants, and many African Americans with some historical memory of past situations in which they were forced to give up Civil Liberties.
Some support surgical, military retaliation, but do not support an all-out war effort. That sector grows when asked how many American lives they would sacrifice to pursue that objective. Some of these sectors are also against undermining civil liberties. This is an important, still jingoistic sector, but for whom an all out-war and a loss in civil liberties could be too high a price to pay. We can add to this layer those who fear that Bush’s strategy, far from guaranteeing the return of their safety, will endanger it further by provoking a perpetuation of the cycle of terror with attacks and counter-attacks.
Among immigrants, the sentiments about war, retaliation and vengeance are divided. However, the emerging proposals to criminalize immigrants face overwhelming opposition. Anecdotally, we can testify that those who express support for war or some measured retaliatory strikes against terrorists rapidly abandon their positions when it becomes clear that Bush and the right wing are using the present circumstances to put immigrants on the front lines of Bush’s war on civil liberties.
Most polls seem to distortedly reflect this complex reality of consciousness. While roughly 80% support the war or some kind of military retaliation, only around 50% state that they are willing to sacrifice their Civil Liberties. Over 60% of all surveyed opposed racist attacks or profiling against Arabs and Muslims. But dangerously enough, over 35% favor such profiling.
The Road is Paved with Obstacles
There are imprecisions and flip-flops in the preparation of the war plans. Bush clearly stated, "We are not in the business of nation-building, but seeking justice." This was soon transformed into airdrops of food and medicine for Afghan refugees starting to flee the area of potential conflict, promises to rebuild the country after the Taliban is overthrown. The US is behind the attempts to set up an alternative government. This entails the 85-year old retired King of Afghanistan (Zahir Shah Mohammed), the Northern Alliance, and tribal and "moderate" elements loyal to the Taliban, but under pressure from Pakistan to split in order to represent the Pashtun ethnic majority in the new scheme. All typical imperialist "nation-building" measures taken to appease the allies that risks their heads in collaborating with the US offensive.
Bush, Colin Powell and Secretary Rumsfeld categorically denied any information about the investigation or the presentations of proof of bin Laden’s responsibility. But Tony Blair, the Pakistani and other governments went to great pains to explain in very vague terms that they had seen "the evidence" (characterized by some media as merely circumstantial), and were "convinced" that the Bush administration has the right man.
The fact that under the guise of fighting terrorism, the Bush administration is proposing draconian, Bonapartist legislation is starting to create domestic pockets of resistance. A group of over 200 civil and human rights organizations issued a declaration of 10 points demanding protection for Constitutional rights, as well as Civil Liberties, while in the pursuit of justice for those killed by the terrorist attacks. Still isolated, but strong voices of opposition to the drastic reforms of judiciary protections are emerging.
Left to their own devices (and in the absence of a growing mass movement), these organizations would most likely be ignored or cave in. The ACLU has expressed a desire to "compromise" on a definition of "terrorism." This compromise accepts some of the vagueness of the proposed language, with the addition of the proviso that terrorist acts should result "in death or serious bodily harm."
Some elements among all classes in society are starting to wonder if this bipartisan offensive is not an updated, more brutal version of the "New World Order" called for by Bush Sr. at the end of the Gulf War. Now that the first overwhelming moments of deep hatred and desire for vengeance have passed, calls for a "measured" response and instead of an irrational lashing out are starting to be heard.
These sentiments will be reinforced. Public opinion in the semi-colonial world is against Bush’s plans. Even in Europe, the opposition to such plans is growing. The perception that the whole Muslim world will be attacked and scapegoated as part of the military plans against Afghanistan is throwing additional gasoline onto the fire. The utilization of words like "crusade," and statements that this is a war "between civilizations" and other anti-Muslim statements that were uttered by Bush’s administration officials are creating ripples of concern, even among those who will collaborate in the bombing.
Some US allies are expressing the need for an "international response" under the banner of the United Nations, after US imperialism exercise its "right" to perform the first strikes of retaliation to help it re-establish its image as the "leader of the free world," of course. After some ceremonial revenge is carried out, most likely these voices will increase in volume. The international ruling class does not have a great deal of confidence in the talents and abilities of George W.
It is important to note, however, that the "differences" expressed by other imperialist powers like France and Germany are not of an humanitarian character, but rather the expression of their inter-imperialist struggle to defend their own interests. There is not such thing as a united imperialist class: the ruling class of each imperialist country remains divided from the others along the lines of their own interests and those differences would come to be sharpened if the US ruling class push too far in order to protect their own interests at the expense of the interests and security of the others.
While short-term vengeance is almost certain, and supported, the stability of long-term plans for this US offensive are not.
The Emergence of Resistance to this "Newer World Order."
Anti-corporate/anti-capitalist activists are slowly returning to action. So are the left, pacifists, Greens, and others. They are rising to confront a new war, different from others. Their first response, confused and pragmatic as it may be, indicates that there is at least a small base from which a movement to fight on all three fronts of this new war could be built. We have to understand that the violence of the terrorist attacks, the devastation it created and the war drive of the US ruling class has developed to the extreme the polarization in US society. That polarization is obviously overwhelmingly now in favor of the ruling class and particularly of the Bush administration. But they are some small signs of recovery of the layers which would develop a consciousness of opposing the war plans that seems unstoppable now.
Some ordinary workers, youth, immigrants and members of other communities of color and even some bourgeois elements, are starting to have second thoughts after the stunning events left them numb, angry and fearful for weeks. These layers are coming or will come to oppose those plans on their own terms, at their own rhythm and determined by their own experience of the different dimensions of the war’s directly effect on them.
Immigrants, as we said before, are starting to react to the attacks against them. But fear for their future has a chilling effect in their desire to act massively on their disgust at the newly launched offensive against them. In that sense, what happens at our demonstration during Immigrant Pride Day and other elements of protest in the coming weeks and months will give us a more proper perspective. In any case, while we can expect some degree of defensive struggles among immigrants, the understanding that they are presently the focus of some of the "anti-terrorist" campaign will act as a deterrent for them to join immediately the open struggle against the war.
Some workers and Labor activists are starting to realize that wages, unemployment, layoffs and attacks on their right to strike are on the agenda, as the bourgeoisie will use the "anti-patriotic" argument to suppress their struggles.
Elements of this already surfaced in Minnesota, where 20,000 state workers went on strike despite the accusations of Governor Jesse Ventura that such action was "unpatriotic" and "against the best interests of the country in the midst of a recession and a possible war." The National Guard was partially mobilized to replace some of the strikers as well as present an image of war mobilization. Other example is the editorial campaign from California’s mainstream media against the announced walkout of United Commercial and Food workers at several supermarket chains.
It would be, however, a big overestimation for comrades to think that these different layers of the population opposing Bush’s plans are homogeneous in regards in their consciousness and that a linear, mechanical antiwar campaigning would do the work of uniting them against Bush’s plans.
It is simply statistically impossible that the 20,000 state workers in Minnesota are reacting in direct opposition of the economic aspects of the war plans. They are propelled by their own needs, which were present before the terrorist attacks and could not be completely subdued by war propaganda.
Great pressure will be brought to bear on them by the ideological think tanks of the ruling class. But even Bush recognizes the perils of a strategy overtly perceived as anti-Labor. That is why, weeks after the massive destruction of Lower Manhattan and in the grips of a recession, he is proposing the extension of unemployment insurance for 13 weeks and an "economic stimulus" package of $75 billion which includes some crumbs for the Labor movement.
It won’t be easy for workers to connect the dots, and therefore develop the consciousness, that the struggle for their living standards are intimately related to the ruling class’ war plans. That’s why, while in themselves useless to produce the mobilization of the working class, declarations and motions passed by Unions, Labor Councils and other working class bodies could be used to organize a consistent propaganda campaign among workers to integrate them into the overall struggle. In other words, to translate words into action.
The Peace/Antiwar Movement and the Left
Roughly 4% of the population – and counting – are continuing the trend initiated in Seattle in 1999, followed by the Nader campaign and was picking up the fight against capitalist institutions by coming out against war, racism and in defense of civil liberties. But they far from constitute the only potential layer that could be attracted to the emerging movement.
It would be a misreading of reality to expect this layer to grow mathematically and become a powerful movement by itself. This 4% constitutes the most conscious layer – pollsters are discovering a close connection between Nader voters and early resistance to the war drive– but they are far from being the only opponents to Bush’s plans or even its larger component or potential component.
This is, however, where the initial active opposition is developing and where we can play an important role in orienting, broadening and influencing it programmatically. And one of the purposes is to prevent this core group of opposition from isolating itself further and becoming demoralized.
There is still plenty of confusion compounded by a constant jingoistic campaign from most of the mainstream media that fill the movement with versions, distortion of information and ideological diversions. There are also lingering bad habits – particularly a refusal by many activists to work together while debating differences, slogans that reflect past experiences but not necessarily serve the present movement and a micro-climate – characterized by a tendency to preach to the converted - created in this layer of the population.
Nevertheless, they are already on the streets fighting, and they have the potential to broaden their base of support. If they find their way to the working class, immigrants and communities of color, they could play a very progressive role, by helping develop a more powerful movement than the anti-globalization or the Nader campaigns were.
The key role of socialists in these circumstances is first to be where the resistance to Bush’s war plans are. Socialists need to explain a program, strategy and tactics that will arm the activists in the small anti-war movement with a way to build an effective mass movement that will reach millions of workers and youth, rather than small numbers of already convinced activists competing to have their pet topics added to the program.
Socialists work to convince the anti-war movement of the central role that the working class should play in this movement. Immigrants, working class communities and unions or, in their absence, organized groups of workers, are critical if we are to defeat the generalized offensive of the ruling class.
Socialists work to educate the emerging peace/antiwar movement on the iron necessity of establishing alliances, even partial ones, with every layer that enters into struggle with one or several aspects of imperialism’s plans. Moreover, they should be worked with at whatever level of consciousness they enter the struggle. We also need to help those in the anti-war movement to draw socialist and revolutionary conclusions from the current situation and the need to join Socialist Alternative and build our revolutionary organization. One of the fundamental ones is to have this working class orientation in building the movement.
The Road to Develop a Mass Movement
We should NOT assume that a mass movement against the imperialist offensive will develop automatically. There is a great possibility that the painful first steps could be thrown back if Bush’s Armed Forces manage to develop their military campaigns without American losses or terrible devastation of Afghanistan or other countries or if those actions do not create massive opposition around the world. A second terrorist attack on the US or Europe would greatly complicate the situation and make it harder to build the anti-war movement.
Whatever struggle develops against any aspect of Bush’s plan, will go objectively against the plan overall. We should strive to encourage them and to make the peace/antiwar movement understand this present general orientation.
In order to advance, the imperialist offensive needs labor peace, lack of radicalism on campuses, a passive immigrant community, a fearful population who will at least maintain a demoralized passivity before the patriotic calls for "Homeland Security" and "exchange Civil Liberties for Safety." This explains the scare tactics of the government and the media who are now talking about more acts of terrorism, raising the ghost of biological terrorism and developing a rationale that the September 11 attacks were just the first attack of a planned wave.
Anything that challenges that status quo helps our overall strategy.
Socialists raise a program and propose a strategy and a set of tactics to ally the emerging peace/anti-war movement with any resistance against any or all aspects of the "Newer World Order." This will include immigrants who will be fight against the attacks on them, workers who, even if they support the war of retaliation, will be accused of "unpatriotic" for continuing their struggles for better wages and working conditions during the "war on terrorism"; with civil libertarians unwilling to sacrifice their civil liberties in the name of retaliation and revenge, even if they hesitate because of their isolation and class nature; with relatives of the victims and those left homeless who after mourning their losses, will start to demand reparations, services, housing, even if they are still in the grips of the horror they went through on September 11 and their emotions are mixed.
The role of Socialists is to participate in all of these struggles, raise a program to mobilize the largest number of people for the immediate and democratic demands, and patiently explain how those struggles and the peace/anti-war movement are all part of resistance against a common enemy. Socialists need to develop transitional demands to link and help develop the consciousness of those who enter into struggle motivated by their immediate and democratic needs.
The Purpose of an Agitational Program for the Mass Movement and Propaganda to Win over the Best Activists.
Sloganeering and pushing for a "radical-sounding" program in a small, still unconsolidated movement of the most conscious elements will isolate them and deprive other layers coming into struggle from joining it, and will make the work of socialists much less effective.
By the same token, we should oppose the ideas, primarily coming from the pacifist circles, that somehow the "international community" should bring justice to those killed in the terrorist attacks or that the UN should head retaliatory strikes. There is no such thing as an "international community" outside of the control of US imperialism and its partners around the world. Such a proposal will only help US imperialism to obtain the seal of approval and legitimacy they need to move forward with their offensive.
We need the peace/antiwar movement to adopt a program that confronts the three fundamental aspects of the imperialist offensive, but will not isolate it from the other layers coming into the struggle at different levels, rhythms and based on their own experiences. This is partly because of our weakness in numbers and influence, and the absence of a mass workers’ or left party, but fundamentally because this is the correct method of building a mass movement.
The absence of a mass left or working class party also facilitated the polarization of the present situation in favor of the ruling class and imperialism at a much faster pace. The working class and the oppressed simply had not point of reference, debate and discussion of the situation and were left at the mercy of the monopoly of information, political direction and propaganda of the ruling class.
We have had early success in places where we pushed for the three-point program (No War! Stop Racist Attacks Against Arabs, Muslims and ALL Immigrants and Defend Civil Liberties) adopted and embraced by many. But this should be accompanied by a relentless struggle to connect the antiwar/peace movement with the other layers that will struggle with the overall offensive of the US government and imperialism or with parts of it.
While we develop intensive propaganda about our positions on the Middle East, the attacks against Iraq, fundamentalism and terrorism, the movement against globalization and capitalism and other issues and try to help the best elements of the antiwar-movement reach revolutionary and socialist conclusions, it would be a mistake to make this analysis or its programmatic conclusions the program for building the mass movement at this stage. To do so would be to speak over the heads of those still unsure of where to go or the soft layers today supporting some kind of "punishment" or retaliation against the terrorists but who can be won to opposing the ruling class’ plans over time.
The antiwar/peace movement is not the revolutionary party or its substitute. It is a lever to mobilize the largest numbers of people possible, particularly the working class, the oppressed and youth and to promote their permanent mobilization and struggle. In order to succeed, the movement must focus on a few popular slogans reflecting the essence of the objective needs of workers and the oppressed. At this time, our three-point program comprises these objective needs of the movement to confront Bush’s plans.
Should we discuss in the peace/antiwar movement? Why the situation in the Middle East? Or Iraq? Or Oman? Or Afghanistan? Or Colombia? Or the relation of the present situation with capitalism and imperialism? Absolutely. There is no way we could recruit for our organization (a critical task for us) without openly discussing our Marxist analysis of all issues related with the present political situation -- the most important of which is that this struggle against the war drive can only be decisively won by replacing capitalism with socialism.
Should we strive to convince the ultra-minority today comprising the peace/antiwar movement to adopt our analysis, raise continually new slogans reflecting our positions and analysis when they make sense to the activists attending meetings? Absolutely not.
At this point we are opposed to proposals in that direction. Why? Because a mass movement is not a propaganda block of the most active members of a movement. It is build around focused issues that affect most people, and based on issues that they can easily understand, and will compel them to move into action. For a movement to become a mass movement, its priorities must retain an agitational character on a few fundamental ideas for many, combined with some propaganda to educate about those points.
That is the method of the "Land, Bread and Peace" slogan raised by the Bolsheviks in 1917. Once a generalized movement in the streets of Russia, the Bolsheviks added "Down with the Czar! All power to the soviets!" as proposals for the mass movement, even though they did relentless propaganda all along to prepare the best activists, who joined the party in the process, about the need of that strategy and of a revolutionary party to carry it out.
Precisely because of that method, we propose at this stage to concentrate the attention of many people SPECIFICALLY on the fight against war on any country by keeping the slogans GENERAL; the fight to defend Arab, Muslims and immigrants (in the minds and experience of most people) and the defense of their own Civil Liberties (an easily understood concept).
These proposals will keep the focus of the movement on the essential aspect of the resistance to the war plans. At the same time, we organize as intense propaganda as possible among the activist base to prepare them for the next step. We should not be behind or at the same level in our program for the mass movement as the present state of consciousness of the entire movement, but we should not be so far ahead that we lose sight of who we would like to win over to transform the movement into a mass movement. We need to be always one step ahead of consciousness, and the three-point program is today a step ahead of the mass of the working class.
Will this change and will we find ourselves tailing the movement instead of pulling it?
Not if we understand and participate in the movement in such a way as to be ready to make new proposals when the situation changes, whether these changes are the product of the policies of the ruling class – by stumbling in its offensive, making mistakes or creating a larger opposition – and/or triggered by the response of the mass movement that may be radicalized at a rhythm that we could not predict at this point.
Very few understand, for example, slogans such as "US Out of the Middle East!" Even among activists, these slogans vary in meaning from group to group. Ordinary people, those who will define the difference between a small propaganda movement and a mass movement, will not be mobilized behind slogans that they do not feel are directly related to their daily lives.
Our work is to prepare the terrain, through education and discussion, for that understanding. But we need to insist in focusing on issues and slogans like No War! Stop Scapegoating! Defend Our Civil Liberties! Behind which many will eventually rally.
The Impact of the New Situation in Our Organization
The organization has felt pressure from the confusion in the movement and exerted upon us by layers of the population with whom we interact, as well as from the barrage of jingoistic propaganda. But it would be entirely wrong for us not to take a firm and principled position on all issues raised by these events. We must put great care into our slogans, program and language to remain sensitive to people who are still in shock and angry, while explaining the roots of the present situation.
There is also the danger of dismissing or unconsciously denying the enormity of the changes, not fully drawing all of the conclusions from the new situation and attempting to continue on with the old anti-capitalist rhetoric of our Nader and youth campaigns. Due to the enormity of the September 11 events and the brutal offensive of the ruling class now underway, it is inevitable that this will create confusion within our own organization as we reorient ourselves to a radically different political situation. Today, the agitation against globalization/capitalist institutions becomes more propagandistic and our arguments should be for the activists of that movement to join the peace/antiwar movement.
While the anti-globalization/anti-capitalist movement faced a fierce defensive struggle from the ruling class, it enjoyed sympathy and support or, at least, neutrality from large layers of society.
That situation ended on September 11. In the new stage of the class struggle, with the imperialist offensive in full swing, the movement faces an active and very large, base of support for the imperialist plans. The relationship of forces, at least temporarily has dramatically changed in favor of imperialism. The movement, slogans and tactics must reflect this more defensive situation for the working class, the oppressed and the youth. The art of revolutionary politics is not reduced to having a correct program for when the movement advances, but also for when it ebbs, changes its character, or retreats.
For the most part the organization has begun to respond to the changes in the situation. The EC produced a statement analyzing the situation. Several of our branches got involved in the emerging, more complicated movement against the war, racism and in defense of civil liberties, providing guidance to other branches about how to proceed. In some areas, we are influencing layers of the movement.
We developed a three-point program to unify the different components of those opposed to the war. Now they are accepted points of unity in many coalitions, even in areas where we have no members. The EC also put forward initial proposals and reports to help orient branches how to intervene and develop our political work in a drastically altered political situation. Now is the time to step up our work.
Our Participation in the Movements
Under the present circumstances, the fundamental strategy of the organization is to help develop the mobilization of the working class and the mass movement against the three fronts of the war declared by the ruling class: a) the war in retaliation against workers and peasants abroad; b) the racist attacks on Arabs, Muslims and immigrants (a direct attack against the US working class that will soon be extended to many other layers); and c) the war on civil liberties that is already affecting many different layers of society. At the same time we must ensure we try to win the best youth and workers to Socialist Alternative. Of course, we are a small organization, with small resources. While there will be differences in how we intervene from area to area, the strategy that we present to the movement is the same.
The priority for our intervention is among those who are presently the most dynamic forces of the resistance: youth, students, immigrants, emerging coalitions and movements, rallies and demonstrations, teach-ins and every expression of resistance in each area. In some areas, where we are at the initial steps of building our organization, the task of recruiting is even more critical, since it is necessary to have critical mass to intervene effectively. But whether we are in a position of leading and building both the movement and the organization, or only the latter, the priority is to be with the movement.
In those areas where is not a visible movement in place, we could try to form or at least to take the initial steps to organize a coalition or any similar grouping to jump start the resistance.
Our program for the mass movement in its formative stages is condensed in our demands of No War! No Scapegoating and Profiling of Arabs, Muslims and Immigrants! Defend Civil Liberties. These three slogans synthesize the three main tasks to defeat the overall plan of the ruling class on its three different fronts. We present these points and defend them. Whether in a small branch or a more developed branch, the struggle for the program is a fundamental one. This should not only be done by speaking at meetings, but also by issuing leaflets with our proposals.
In other layers of the population or movements that emerge in opposition to parts of the ruling class’ overall plan, we can use one or two of these slogans or even some different ones to concretely express the objective needs of those struggles and direct them as much as possible into confrontation with the ruling class.
In every movement or action we intervene, in every coalition we take part in, we should also include a thorough explanation and condemnation of the criminal terrorist attacks of September 11. This should not be done tokenly or formally, but thoroughly. We cannot afford to miss connecting with all potential allies of the movement against Bush’s plans. We must connect in the most elemental way possible: by identifying ourselves as part of the working class and the oppressed caught in the crossfire.
For example, we could develop a mass audience among immigrants by fighting for No Scapegoating of Arabs, Muslims or Immigrants; Immigrants are NOT Terrorists; Stop the attacks against foreign students, etc. Among the relatives of WTC victims and those left homeless by the terrorist attacks, we can articulate a program demanding housing; extension of unemployment benefits for 2 years; reparations for wages lost to the families of those who were killed; free health care for all survivors and the relatives of those killed in the terrorist attacks; in unions and workplaces we should push for continuing the fight for better wages and working conditions; etc.
Whenever possible, and using language easily understandable by audiences to which it is directed, we need to explain – without trying to impose that as part of the program for action of those layers – how what they are fighting for is part of the struggle against the overall war plan of the ruling class, and how the bosses attacks on them are part of their overall war strategy.
For example: in SF, our comrades were preparing, well before the terrorist attacks, a demonstration, rally and festival demanding Papers for All! After the terrorist attacks, when Bush launched his first attacks against immigrants, the slogan to defend Arabs and Muslims and against Scapegoating was added after arriving at that conclusion discussing with our allies. The comrades also demanded that the Mayor and the City Council issue written proclamations supporting these demands. The material of the coalition formed by the comrades under different circumstances, do not include a slogan against the war, but our comrades are making sure to explain, and will speak from the stage the day of the event, that these attacks and the changing mood and the Scapegoating is part of the overall war plan of Bush and the ruling class. The fact that we are leading this mobilization also gave our comrades lots of leverage in the antiwar/peace coalitions and served our comrades well to educate students and others in how to link the antiwar/peace movement with working class expressions of resistance to parts of the Bush plan. The two major peace/antiwar coalitions: the SF Town Hall Committee to Stop War and Hate and the UC Berkeley Coalition against the War endorsed the event. Depending on the timing of military actions announced by Bush, this could very well become a focal rally of antiwar forces, as well as fresh forces brought into the struggle like unions, immigrants, communities of color.
As we intervene in the peace/antiwar movement, agitating to link it to all struggles of workers and the oppressed with a program that facilitates the mobilization of the greatest numbers possible, we raise our full analysis, our full program, the need to build a revolutionary party, the need for socialism to resolve this new crisis unfolded by imperialism and capitalism in our propaganda material in propaganda circles where we invite contacts from our mass work in a systematic way, open branch meetings, etc.
There are many who ask: "What do you propose to do to bring justice to those killed and eliminate terrorism?" There is no an easy answer to these questions without patiently explaining that there is no solution under capitalism. It is not possible for Bush, the Democrats and the imperialist ruling class to stop terrorism without resolving the causes of social injustice, poverty and decimation of the natural resources both abroad and at home. And that, in turn, if done, would go directly against the profit-driven capitalist system that they represent. Their present war plans are no more than gasoline thrown on a fire.
However, we should carefully avoid demanding that coalitions of the peace/antiwar movement or other movements opposed partially to the ruling class’s strategy, adopt our analysis and full program. Coalitions are not and should not be the revolutionary party. And part of a program of a revolutionary party is to learn how to build effective, mass actions and movements from which we recruit the most conscious and best activists.
Even the propaganda material we write to attract and recruit the most advanced layers should be carefully and sensitively written and/or explained when we make verbal interventions at meetings. We have to be conscious that many people new to politics are joining the movement and will continue to do so. Our propaganda material, as well as our agitational material, should be designed to be understood and in a language accessible for those unfamiliar with Marxist jargon.
Our role in peace/antiwar coalitions is to explain the need to, and help as possible to integrate as many different layers of the working class, the youth, immigrants and others as possible. We need to fight in those coalitions for them to adopt a program appealing to layers other than the core left and pacifist constituencies. This will necessarily imply a fight against sectarian tendencies – relatively stronger in the movement now because of the current size of the resistance– to make them mere front groups for left organizations or a programmatic block of the left.
We have to hammer on the need for the three-point program to mobilize as many as possible. At the same time, we maintain our unique analysis, insist on democratic debates in the movement about different perspectives, and very skillfully raise criticisms of other forces intervening in the movement.
The program we fight for the antiwar/peace movement to adopt is not the final program and will be developed as the mass movement against the war emerges, grows, and consolidates. New demands will have to be incorporated as the situation evolves, the consciousness of the working class and youth develops and as the movement grows.
But timing is of the essence of knowing how and when to raise new demands is critical. At the present time, the three-point program; and the examples of different slogans to be raised in partial struggles and how to generalize or connect them are appropriate until the movement definitely takes off.
In order to achieve that growth, socialists argue with other coalition partners about how to address and answer, clarify and patiently explain the need to defend the three-point program to soft supporters of the war. We are at a critical juncture to make the movement coalesce. Ultraleftism or sectarianism could destroy the movement before it develops. Pacifism and reformism could become a strong obstacle to our politics and the movement in the near future, but our main effort at these initial stages of the movement is to avoid the isolation that sectarianism can produce.
On the other hand, we should not accept that anyone harshly and bureaucratically stamp out sectarians – particularly when those expressions do not come from sectarian groupings but individual expressions of frustration and impatience of legitimate activists - but patiently explain at coalition meetings why it is not appropriate for coalitions to adopt a position on every issue which does not focus on stopping the War at home and abroad, or some of its essential components (like Scapegoating of immigrants) even if we all agree on them. Our objective is not but help the movement to broaden and advance.
Coalitions are not party formations, but organisms of the broader mass of people. Points of unity and mobilization, what brings them out, should address the essential political elements of the Bush’s war. Coalitions are developed to bring layers into the movement who are not today active and the program must be designed to do just that, not to satisfy the activist layer. At the same time, we should propose educationals, teach-ins and other forms of educating as many people as possible on all issues connected to the war drive.
The organization must call its own public events and publish newspapers, leaflets and brochures offering a complete Marxist analysis and openly discussing the nature of its intervention in the mass movement in order to educate and recruit the best elements, not only from the peace/antiwar movement, but also from the new layers who are expected to enter the scene fighting partial struggles against the ruling class’ plans.
We should clearly state what our understanding of the roots of the present crisis are and what are the historical tasks that need to be resolved in order to end it. But we clearly tell all activists and those who come to the movement for the first time: this is our understanding; let’s discuss it while we fight together agreeing on these three points, etc
We not only look to recruit new members that agree with our general socialist propaganda, but that are also educated in the proper method of intervention in the class struggle, in the program we put forward to build it and how we utilize it to define our strategy and the set of tactics we propose. While members could be recruited in almost every instance and stage of the class struggle, there is no doubt that the existence of a mass movement that fights, combined with a correct program and method to intervene in it, will go a long way to making our recruitment qualitatively and quantitatively easier and better.
We push for coalitions now being formed to organize mass rallies and demonstrations. The movement will coalesce on the streets under unifying slogans, not in a battle between leftists around how many slogans to line up on a leaflet. The question of tactics is very important: mass actions, strikes and walkouts at schools, etc., to develop the consciousness that will help us fill the gap between today’s different layers of consciousness and anti-capitalist, socialist consciousness by mobilizing vast numbers of people in direct confrontation with the ruling class’ plans.
Flexibility in our proposals, interventions, and tactics are also critical. This will not be an antiwar movement that emerges progressively over time, with American troops occupying a country and sustaining losses. There could well be more than one country attacked, maybe with ground troops, but apparently with Special Forces. They will likely try to avoid being entangled for more than short periods. The ruling class is very aware of the Vietnam syndrome. The targets would change from attack to attack. Therefore, the movement against these war plans will not be built with the same blueprint than the antiwar movement during the Vietnam War.
There will also be domestic fronts in this war. There will be demonstrations and rallies against military attacks, but also against the measures taken against Muslims and Arabs or the proposed measures to suspend visas against foreign students or aspects of the proposed cuts in civil liberties. Some of these protests will include people that support some kind of retaliation for the terrorist attacks of September 11. We need to intervene in all movements and connect them, helping them to overcome the gap between their immediate and democratic struggles and the transitional struggle against the war plans.
In supporting mass actions to defend Arabs, Muslims, immigrants and civil liberties or intervening in working class and workplace struggles, the program we raise is critical. We must support these actions even if they do not at first oppose military actions, or do so in a vague way. And we must argue for the peace/antiwar movement to adopt this method as its own. If we intervene in a coalition that does not accept our three-points we do not jump out, we stay and patiently explain the need to have such a program. The only condition to be there is that they would have some significant way locally, at a campus or in its area of activities to mobilize people.
Obviously, in such demonstrations and actions, an omnibus program of abstract anti-imperialism would not only be sterile, but counterproductive. Comrades should be aware that anti-globalization / anti-corporate / anti-capitalist consciousness or our own socialist consciousness is a tiny minority. What we do, what we propose as a BRIDGE between that consciousness and those involved in partial struggles is decisive.
The method of the transitional program consists in skillfully combining immediate, democratic and transitional demands to intervene in all struggles that develop to help the mass movement close the gap between the present day consciousness and the socialist consciousness. This is done through a series of approximations that develops as the movement is formed and the struggle extends. In our own material we need to make sure we put forward our full transitional program to win recruits to our full socialist alternative, and to our organization. We also understand that in period of severe repression and/or war, some democratic demands become transitional.
In every action, coalition and meeting we participate in, we need to also raise the question of working class orientation. This is done by fighting for unions and working class organizations to enter the peace/antiwar movement; by fighting in workplaces and unions to raise the issues of the war, racism and civil liberties; elaborating how these attacks will affect workers in the form of curtailment of their workplace rights; how the jingoistic elements will be used during the war to demand concessions from workers; how the money from our pension funds, social security, etc. will be used to pay for this war of revenge, etc.
In every movement against the war plans or aspects of it, in order to develop a correct program and method, those movements need to be democratic, allow political discussions, the selling and distributing of materials from all tendencies and groups who support the overall aims of the movement, and democratically elect its leadership and representatives, trying to include in them all the tendencies and ideological expressions in a way commensurate to their work for the movement and their support in it.
The organization must, in order to take full advantage of the emerging movement in order to maximize its influence and the influence of its program in the different movements, revolutionize its methods of work. Patiently but consistently, comrades need to be convinced of the changing political situation and the new needs and pressures imposed upon the organization.
Rank and file comrades need to be encouraged to become cadres, cadres to become leaders and everyone to make extra efforts to give more to the organization, both in time and material resources, to be able to play a leadership role in the emerging movement as much as possible. This is not a time for routine or pre-conceived propaganda campaigns, but a fight for the life or death of a mass movement.
In many instances, especially for a small organization like ours, working in the periphery of the movements and almost exclusively in a general propagandistic and ideological way is imposed by the limited resources at our disposal. For many branches under the present circumstances, the work would remain more or less at that stage until we develop some critical mass of members.
This approach, correct during the Nader campaign and other interventions, are insufficient at the present time. Instead, comrades should step up their commitments, be coached and trained to speak in public and defend our positions, make proposals, volunteer to lead committees and groups of coalition members, become experts in agitation, etc. as much as possible. When our numbers do not allow us to play leadership roles in coalitions, we need to discuss to at least take on some minimal tasks to get in closer contact with activists and not been seen as outside propagandists.
Of course, how much responsibility we take on practical matters in coalitions and movements depends on the availability of members we have in each area and our participation in these practical tasks of the movement must be balanced with the organization’s own activities and responsibilities.
We also need to increase our aggressiveness in asking new people to join and take up tasks, offer less experienced comrades the opportunity to take on responsibilities, make systematic follow-ups of contacts and potential recruits, but also cultivate and develop allies for our internal struggles in coalitions and movements.
We are unique in the left in our approach and method, but that will be limited just to an ideological role without increasing our forces to make our participation in the emerging movement more efficient. We do not build a revolutionary organization to preserve the memory of correct positions, but to modify - as much as possible - reality with them. Comrades should be prepared, under the present circumstances, to face contacts with broader and more complicated questions and with a reality that indicates that recruitment of new members will require much more propaganda and educational work with them.
In the peace/antiwar movements, we are in favor of working with whatever forces agree with the points of unity of the coalitions as decided by their constituent members. But at all times we reserve the right to argue, disagree or criticize other forces with whom we are acting in unity in action. Being in coalition with other forces is not a reason to give up this right. But, whenever it is necessary to raise criticisms and differences, comrades should be selective on how and when they pick fights, avoiding disputes on minor issues, and making sure to raise differences or criticisms in such a way as to avoid being seen as divisive, obstructionist or bureaucratic. This applies particularly to liberals and bourgeois politicians who will eventually show up in the movement. We are not against being on the same stage or in the same coalition with Greens, pacifists, liberals and other left, union activists and leaders. And while we fight for basic agreement to mobilize the mass movement to its full potential, we must make sure that our independent, socialist and revolutionary voice is heard and our positions are discussed.