Mar 20 2009

Half truths, mistruths and anything but the truth— a brief history of a century of wartime propaganda

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:31 pm

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

—Voltaire

The government of the United States had a major problem. It was April 1917, and on the sixth day of that month, eager to get into the First World War, they declared war on Germany.

Their big problem was this.

Although the American government was up for a fight, the American public was steadfastly pacifist. They saw the war in Europe as just that, a European war, nothing for them to get themselves involved in. Something clearly had to be done to get the population of the United States into a more warlike frame of mind.

On April 13, 1917, president Woodrow Wilson set up the Committee for Public Information, or the Creel Commission as it came to be known. The commission was headed by George Creel, a well-known muckraking journalist, the other formal members being the secretaries of war, state and the navy.

With the Creel Commission’s arrival, modern wartime propaganda in the media age was born. Its aim was to turn pacifist America into a society thirsty for war, to make patriotism and hatred of all things German the noblest aim of every American citizen.

In this the Creel Commission was spectacularly successful. Within months of its formation the American public’s mind was filled with hatred for Germany, German immigrants, anything at all German.

How did the Creel Commission manage to engineer such a remarkable turnaround in public opinion in such a short timeframe?

Quite simply, the Creel Commission understood how to use the media that was available to them (radio, telegraph, films, newspapers, &c.), and harnessed it to change public opinion, with appeals to patriotism and a huge disinformation campaign.

Blatant lies about German soldiers murdering babies and hoisting them up on their bayonets were spread, lies supplied by the British intelligence services, whose stated aim was to control the thoughts of the world (or more specifically at that time the thoughts of the influential intellectual and political classes of the United States). These lies were so powerful that they still persist to this day.

The Creel Commission distributed pamphlets, urging the public to keep an eye open for German spies and recruited the then fledgling Hollywood film industry to produce luridly titled films, such as To Hell with the Kaiser, The Claws of the Hun and The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin.

The Four Minute Men

Telegraphs, cables, radio, all were employed to turn the American population against Germany and all things German, but Creel’s real master stroke was the creation of a group of orators who came to be known as The Four Minute Men.

June 5, 1917, was the date set when all males would have to register for the draft. Many feared a repeat of the draft riots of the Civil War (one of the causes of those riots being a provision whereby those able to afford three hundred dollars could pay a substitute to go and fight for them).

One month before draft registration George Creel unleashed the Four Minute Men on the American public. Their first subject was Universal Service by Selective Draft. In movie theatres the length and breadth of the United States a slide was shown announcing the appearance of the local Four Minute Man.

He would deliver a speech which was never longer than four minutes, a speech designed to stir patriotism and anti-German feeling in the audience.

Four Minute Men were usually local professional men possessed of good public speaking skills, and from May 12 to May 21, cinema audiences were harangued by 75,000 orators, promoting the idea hat in honour of future draftees, registration day should be treated as a festival of honour.

The Four Minute Men were spectacularly successful. On draft registration day, ten million men signed up, where only two months previously no one had wanted anything to do with a European war.

The Four Minute Men went on from this triumph to address their audiences on such topics as Why We Are Fighting and What Our Enemy Really Is. They spoke at lodge and labour union meetings, lumber camps and on Indian reservations.

They operated in 153 universities, there were even junior Four Minute Men who spoke in high schools. By the time the war was over they had given 755,190 speeches to a total of over 314 million Americans. They reached more than 11 million people a month and were the First World War’s most effective form of propaganda.

With the United States finally in the war, and with ever-growing rumblings of discontent and fears of revolution on the home front, the writing was on the wall for the German war effort.

When Germany finally surrendered in 1918, many people on both sides came to realise the huge part that propaganda and the Creel Commission had played in the German’s ultimate defeat, not least among them an Austrian corporal with a funny toothbrush moustache who was to learn the lessons of the Creel Commission well, indeed he was to learn them to devastating, truly devastating, effect.

Right up to the present day the lessons of the Creel Commission are evident whenever states have to convince their populations of the correctness of their decision to go to war, or their support for one side over another in some conflict in which they are not directly militarily involved.

Ruthless

In the very recent past we have seen the Israeli propaganda machine at its ruthless best, defending the Zionist state’s armed wing, the IDF, as it behaved in a manner which would have drawn admiring looks from any playground school bully.

Whenever Israel was challenged or in any way criticised on the enormity of its actions in Gaza, the stock answer on our television screens from a string of literate, media trained Israeli spokespersons was that Israel had the right to protect itself from rockets fired from Gaza.

The lack of questioning of the Israeli government’s party line by a supposedly free media in so-called Western democracies shames those newspapers, radio and TV stations which failed to do so. No reporters were allowed into Gaza and in the hugely compliant mainstream western media, few even bothered to ask the questions, What have you got to hide? or even, But why are Hamas firing rockets into Israel?

Barely anyone connected to the mainstream media explored or attempted to explain the history of the Palestinian conflict, and there was very little mention of the fact that since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 they have mounted what in mediaeval times would have been called a siege of that city.

And while many may disagree with Hamas they are the democratically elected ruling party in Gaza.

Shamefully biased

While there was no chance of Israel losing militarily, there was even less chance of them losing the propaganda war in the west, thanks to the shamefully biased coverage that the savage attack on Gaza received from the compliant BBC and western news channels and newspapers. (I consciously use the word attack and not war, because war hints at some level of comparable military ability.)

No one, however, should really be surprised by the BBC’s compliance. Its attitude toward the Palestinians during the attack was augmented soon after by its shocking and disgusting refusal to broadcast the aid appeal for Gaza, which brought it condemnation from all sides. The BBC pleaded protection of its independence and impartiality, but the corporation is not now, and never has been, a neutral organisation.

Even in its early days, in 1926, during the general strike, it would not allow Ramsay MacDonald the right of reply to Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin. Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director, outwardly gave the impression that he was keen to defend the corporation’s independence and impartiality from the intrusion of the state, but in reality he was prepared to block any views being aired which did not chime with those of Baldwin’s Tory government.

Bearing this in mind, the shockingly biased reporting we viewed on our screens should not leave anyone open-mouthed with astonishment. If a crude rocket fired from Gaza fell on an empty school in Israel, this would receive equal or better coverage than the fact that weapons using the latest technology were falling on occupied buildings filled with real people in Gaza.

Propaganda, it would appear, is not just about stirring up patriotic feelings and creating hatred for the enemy, it can also work at a very effective level for the state by promoting one side’s view in a conflict while largely ignoring the other’s. It can also be a powerful manipulator of perception by what it chooses to omit to tell us.

Not that Gaza is the only example of state propaganda at work in recent times. In the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 we were assured that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; there were sexed up dossiers designed to scare us; the Iraqi people deserved democracy and not some tyrant ruling over them; and that we were just the people to deliver that democracy to them.

Of course Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant, but he did not officially become so in the eyes of the West until he invaded Kuwait and threatened the flow of oil to the west. Up to that point he had been a puppet of the west, had even been armed by them, basically allowed to do what he wanted in his own little fiefdom.

When he gassed the Kurds at Halabja in 1988 it didn’t cause too much of a stir in the western media, but once he stepped out of his little box and into Kuwait he became the devil incarnate. Following the first Gulf War there followed a long period leading up to the second, in which sanctions and propaganda were the weapons of choice.

Fever pitch

In the year leading up to the invasion in 2003, the propaganda reached fever pitch. The gassing of the Kurds at Halabja went from an event which had been largely ignored and became a crime against humanity, and the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was high on the agenda as a reason for invasion as Saddam was demonised by his former friends.

Sexed up dossiers flew in the face of the evidence of the weapons inspectors who had quietly but effectively been disarming Iraq since the end of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The propaganda machine went into overdrive, and yet, it didn’t quite succeed, as millions took to the streets around the world to demonstrate against and oppose the planned invasion.

But they went and did it anyway (which is fair comment on the kind of democracy that we live in, and by extension also the one which was planned for Iraq). Of course, no weapons of mass destruction were found, but Saddam was overthrown and Iraq got its democratic government. Oh, yes, and western companies did rather well out of the reconstruction of Iraq.

However, the fact that so many people opposed the war in Iraq demonstrates that even the most vehement state propaganda cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And despite the age of the embedded war reporter being upon us, where reporters are given guided tours of the battlefield rather than roaming free to report what they see, still the truth of the horrors of war, and the things done in our name, occasionally seeps through.

Remember the pictures from Abu Graibh of the torture taking place there? Or the iconic picture of the little Vietnamese girl horribly burned by napalm fleeing her village? Or Seymour Hersh’s uncovering of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam?

Hersh was not actually in Vietnam, but uncovered the story by following a trail of rumour and stories around the United States. Which can only leave you wondering what the huge press corp actually in Vietnam were doing to fill in their time.

Even now, we are living through a time of war time propaganda, as our liberties are curtailed and the state places us all under increasing surveillance, all necessary, we are told, if we are to win the War on Terror.

As socialists, we understand that to win the current war on terror is actually quite easy, it’s just a matter of stopping invading other countries to plunder their resources. By making others feel more secure we thus increase our own security, it’s that simple. Resources thus saved could be used to fight the real wars on terror, such as the terror of the elderly, living on pittance pensions, having to choose between eating or heating their homes in winter.

However, I digress.

From the Creel Commission to the War on Terror, state wartime propaganda has tried, through various mechanisms and with varying degrees of success, to unite populations behind the state’s view.

Ironically, however, a side effect of the creation of the Creel Commission was to have devastating consequences for the left in the United States.

During the First World War, in the States, nearly nine million people worked in war industries and a further four million were in the armed forces. When the war ended, economic difficulties and labour unrest rose to the surface as war industries were left without contracts, leading to many being made redundant.

There were two main union/socialist groups in the United States at that time—The Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies), led by Bill Haywood, and the Socialist Party, led by Eugene Debs.

The Russian Revolution was still fresh in many minds and there was a widespread paranoia regarding anarchists, communists, socialists and dissidents. Following a string of bombings by anarchists, America was beset by fear, in what was to become known as the Red Scare.

Because the IWW and the Socialist Party had both been outspoken objectors to the war, this made them unpatriotic in the minds of much of the American population, and to be even loosely associated with them would arouse suspicion.

A shipyard strike followed by a general strike in Seattle in 1919 was wrongly attributed to the IWW. Charges that they were inciting revolution were levelled against them. Newspaper headlines across the country urged that the strike be put down. The mayor of Seattle guaranteed the city’s safety by announcing that 1500 police and the same number of troops were available to him to break the strike. The strikers, fearing they couldn’t succeed, and might damage the labour movement, called off the strike.

Demonised

All strikes in the next six months were demonised in the press as plots to establish communism, conspiracies against the government and crimes against society.

May Day rallies in 1919 in Boston, New York and Cleveland ended in riots and on June 2 another multi-state bomb plot was uncovered, all leading to an increase in tension, in which workers who went on strike were seen as enemies and fair game for persecution.

The Boston Police went on strike in September, as did the steel workers in a nationwide strike a few weeks later. The Boston police were sacked and replaced, and the steel strike ended without the workers getting any of their demands.

Strikers were branded red and unpatriotic as a general state of hysteria swept the nation. Colleges were seen as hotbeds of revolution and current or prior membership of a leftist organisation led to many secondary school teachers being dismissed.

The Justice Department formed the General Intelligence (or anti-radical) Division of the Bureau of Investigation. It compiled 200,000 cards in a filing system detailing radical organisations, individuals and case histories nationwide.

Thousands of alleged radicals were deported or imprisoned. Counsel was often denied, they were not allowed contact with the outside world and they were often beaten and held in inhumane conditions. (So, Guantanamo was nothing new in America’s history!)

On January 2, 1920, in 33 cities across the United States, more than 4000 supposed radicals were arrested. The New York legislature expelled five socialist assemblymen and 32 states passed laws making it illegal to fly the red flag.

Eventually, saner heads prevailed. Twelve eminent lawyers published a report detailing and condemning the Justice Department’s abuse of civil liberties. The decision to bar the socialist assemblymen was treated with disgust by newspapers and many prominent politicians of the day.

Newspapers came out against proposed anti-sedition bills, in which they saw the seeds of censorship, and business leaders realised that deporting immigrants (many of whom were wrongly branded communist) was leading to the loss of cheap labour. Finally, the Red Scare fizzled out.

Before it did so, however, the propaganda techniques created by the Creel Commission in wartime had extended its tentacles into peace time and dealt a major blow to the left in the United States.

It also gave birth to the modern day public relations business which, with its agenda of controlling the public mind, has never looked kindly on the left, neither in peace time nor in time of war. But it has never been able to quite kill the left off, either.

It should not be forgotten that around the time the Creel Commission was inciting a pacifist population to war that, on the other side of the Atlantic, John McLean stood in the dock of the High Court in Edinburgh on May 9, 1918, charged with incitement to mutiny and sedition, and uttered the unforgettable words, I stand here, then, not as the accused, but as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot.

State propaganda may commit vast resources to induce their populations to approve of their military ventures, but by putting a socialist perspective on the facts we can always see through the lies and deceptions and shine a light on their darkness.

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Oct 07 2008

Cartoon

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 6:59 pm
by Rod MacGregor

by Rod MacGregor

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Aug 24 2004

Torture, Rape, Murder….It’s the American Way

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 08RCN @ 2:14 pm

Matt Siegfried exposes the systematic abuse of Iraqi prisoners as an extension of the US penal system. This article originally appeared in Fourthwrite (see p27).

The photographs of US soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners have become symbols of American conceit, American hypocrisy and brutality. The folly of the Iraq adventure seems to be summed up by the pyres of naked, bound and hooded men smiled over by the missionaries of American democracy. More than one right wing commentator in the United States has likened these acts to college pranks.

Most of the world, however, fails to see the humour in employing attack dogs, surgical gloves, digital cameras, sodomising broom sticks and duct tape to torture prisoners, many of them guilty of only being Iraqis, in an orgy of power exercise. The self described experts on the Arab mind of the North American press have repeatedly told us that sexual humiliation is especially damaging to the Arab male with their allegedly macho and homophobic Islamic culture. After all, if US prisoners are any indication, we Americans have a much greater tolerance for rape than those testy Iraqis do. In this, as in all things, if only they could be a little more like us these little misunderstandings would disappear.

It must be said that these revelations have had the effect they have, swinging important segments of the American population against the administration of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush and casting their re-election in doubt, because of two concrete factors. The first is that they were photographed.

All indications are that these photographs were taken to humiliate and blackmail the prisoners photographed or to frighten other prisoners into submission or as souvenirs. How, in the age of the internet, the Military Intelligence units thought that these would remain in obscurity is a testimony to the arrogance of the imperial mindset. Mountains of words could not have had the same effect.

The grinning faces and thumbs up of the torturers are so damning precisely because they are not faceless names. They are recognisable as our neighbours, work mates, parents and children. Society has raised these monsters. America itself is indicted by the very normalcy of those that carried out and continue to carry out these crimes.

The second and more important factor is the strength of the resistance to the occupation. If this story had broken in the context of a war that had been going well for the United States it would not have had nearly the power it has had. Since the capture of Saddam the resistance has grown dramatically belying the myths and half-truths of the mouthpieces for American empire.

The resistance has proven to be varied, contradictory, resourceful and popular. America has responded brutally to this growth and in the process has served as a recruiting sergeant for the resistance. A predictable turn of events in the context of an occupation whose aims are at odd with the interests and desires of the now vast majority of the Iraqi population.

The Iraqi resistance has not yet found a common political or organisational voice. It is possible, even likely, that it will not. Elements of the opposition are undoubtedly criminal or reactionary fundamentalist. Elements employ tactics that run the gamut from counter productive to counter revolutionary. Could it be any other way? A brutal occupation will breed a brutal resistance. Every attempt at colonialism in its bloody history is witness to this dynamic. Though now many more are entering the ranks of the resistance out of a desire to protect their homes, communities and country from the rapacious onslaught of American tanks bulldozing the way for American corporations.

After the fall of Baghdad in April of last year there was not only speculation but also plans for the US military to move on Damascus and possibly Tehran and Pyongyang. The United States aimed at a long term colonial ownership of Iraq. In the face of growing Iraqi resistance the US ruling class has, for now abandoned the possibility of direct military confrontation with Syria, Iran and North Korea. At the endgame of a relentless assault by Israel the resistance in Palestine has been given a moral and morale boost by the people of Iraq.

The occupation itself is in doubt as the US is increasingly unable to force its agenda even on the most pliant of Iraqis. Looking to cede its Iraq quagmire to the United Nations (whose guise the United States has utilised in numerous previous imperial crusades) the fig leaf of the UN would placate European and Arab capitals but it is unlikely to convince the Iraqi people that the occupation has ended. In spite of the violence and pain inflicted in the course of its insurgency against US imperialism’s aggression the resistance in Iraq has already and undoubtedly saved many lives.

While the US media has, by and large, still refused to utter the word torture when describing the actions at Abu Ghraib, Mazar-e-Sharif, Guantanamo Bay and so many places in between that is clearly the definition of those actions. As more and more soldiers return from tours with stories of abuse, of rape and murder on a wide scale it is clear that these acts were sanctioned. They were routine. They were systematic. They came far too easily to some soldiers, Reservists and National Guards.

In fact some of the actions of the accused were already taught to and learned by them in the rape camps and torture chambers of the American penal system. One of the soldiers facing charges, Corporal Charles Graner, worked as a prison guard at Pennsylvania’s notorious SCI Greene where African American revolutionary Mumia Abu Jamal sits on death row and site of numerous allegations of abuse.

Never taken more seriously than a crude joke on late night television rape has long been considered part of the sentence for those imprisoned in this country. The Struckman-Johnson study of prisons in four mid-western states concludes one in five male inmates reported a pressured or forced sex incident while incarcerated. And one in ten male inmates reported that they had been raped. Extrapolating those percentages nationally makes for jaw-dropping number of prisoners sexually assaulted (400,000+ or raped in prison (200,000+)

Any one who has done time in an American prison could describe innumerable instances of abuse that are all but identical to the horrors of Abu Ghraib’s Wing 1A. From solitary confinement to four-point shackles and electric shocks to daily strip and cavity searches, the degrading treatment of human beings at the hands of other human beings is seen as normal, even necessary, in American society.

The United States is a country that has well over two million people currently in prison or jail (1 in 75 male adults) with another four and a half million people on probation or parole. A country that criminalises entire communities placing more black men in jail than college (1 in 5 black men will go to jail in their lives). A country where the “War on Drugs” places millions of its own citizens outside the jurisdiction of justice. A country where the imprisonment of its people is a giant industry, generating billions of dollars in contracts, free labour and entire prisons run for profit. A country that lectures the world on human rights.

Beyond torture the United States is one of the few countries that still sanctions state murder – executions – and regularly carries them out including on the innocent, on juvenile offenders, on the mentally disabled, on a disproportionately black and Latino and overwhelmingly poor population. How could anyone be surprised that in the midst of a racist colonial war the men and women of the US military were ordered to torture prisoners and some cheerfully obeyed? After all torture, rape, murder – it’s the American way. And while some day, hopefully soon, the US will leave Iraq ending this sad chapter what will it take to put an end to the abomination of the American prison system and the grossly unequal society it claims to protect?

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Aug 03 2003

Leadership and the anti-war movement

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 2:59 pm

This article, by Phil Sharpe, on the Stop the War Coalition was first published in the summer edition of Socialist Future Review. We reprint it with permission.

The American and UK governments were determined to carry on with their aggressive political approach, regardless of the level of protests generated against it. This created a real challenge for the anti-war movement and all those in struggle against the Bush-Blair axis.

The massive demonstrations world-wide on February 15 against the USUK drive to war against Iraq seemed to many an irresistible pressure that would result in a retreat by Washington and London. Instead, as we know, the invasion was launched in March and the Saddam Hussein regime overthrown in a relatively short period. Hopes of some that the United States and Britain would become bogged down in a new Vietnam proved short-lived.

Vietnam was an entirely different struggle. The American ruling class was initially united about sending the troops into Vietnam and only began to show splits in the wake of serious military reversals. The Vietnamese liberation forces were an expression of the popular aspiration for national self-determination. This meant that political support translated into a formidable military force that was able to win significant victories over the USA armed forces and its proxies. The Vietnamese had already defeated the French and were armed with modern equipment. In contrast, the Bush administration knew that Iraq was a country with its own internal divisions, which it could exploit for military advantage. In Iraq, American and British troops were never confronted with an armed force that was comparable to the Vietnamese national liberation army. Furthermore, United Nations sanctions had weakened the military capability and resolve of the Iraqi troops, and the army lacked capable and resolute leadership. The Saddam dictatorship, which had engaged in military adventures for more than 20 years, proved incapable of rallying his ill-equipped army.

The aim of Bush and Blair is to develop an aggressive approach that upholds the interests of global capital against any national andregional opposition. On this basis possible further military action is envisaged against rogue states like Iran, Syria and North Korea. They were determined to carry on with their aggressive political approach, regardless of the level of protests which were generated against it. Their stance has created a real challenge for the anti-war movement and all those in struggle against the Bush-Blair axis. The STWC helped to bring millions on to the streets of Britain in the countdown to war — far fewer once the invasion was under way. How has it tried to come to terms politically with and develop the initiative in the context of rapidly changing events?

A bulletin posted on the STWC website after the military action ended, claimed:

There can be few victories which have turned to ashes so quickly. The Iraqis have not welcomed the occupying US and British forces and there have been widespread demonstrations in the country against the occupying armies which have resulted in scores of Iraqis being killed.

The bulletin adds:

We have entered a new phase of the campaign following the end of the war, but there is very large bedrock of support remaining on which we can continue to build. The slogan End The Occupation Now! is obviously the central question here. It is also the slogan being raised by millions of Iraqis so fits very much into international solidarity.

There then follow details about the campaign to defend MP George Galloway from New Labour’s threat against his party membership, with STWC supporters urged to email Blair with their protests. There is no analysis of the fact that despite the massive numbers on the streets, the invasion and occupation of Iraq went ahead. There are no thoughts about the changed political situation. The perspective, as we have noted, is simply applying protest and pressure to end the occupation of Iraq by British and American forces. But it is inadequate to claim that it is business as usual. For making this claim effectively means that the anti-war movement becomes nothing more than an expression of nostalgia about the February 15 protests.

STWC’s leadership

The leadership of STWC as an organisation is provided by a coalition of the old guard Stalinists of the British Communist Party, and the Socialist Workers Party. In the aftermath of February 15 demonstration this leadership was content to go with the flow and call for more mass marches and local actions. But of course, the beginning of military action began to pose new challenges about how to develop the anti-war movement. Primarily, it meant the need to develop a real and conscious struggle against the New Labour government which, after all, was a joint sponsor of the invasion.

So how did the STWC leadership respond to this? The answer is that the leadership tried to respond in terms of business as usual rather than recognising what was new and challenging about the situation. For they had effectively called for a U-turn by the New Labour government. This was actually an unrealistic approach that did not accept the full commitment and support of New Labour as a government for an attack on Iraq. In practice, this meant the STWC became an appendage of the Labour revolt against the war plans. But, the superficial nature of this revolt was shown in that with a few exceptions, the Labour rebels were silent during the war, and made no calls for its end. Consequently, STWC leaders became politically paralysed restricted by their refusal to go beyond the politics of the Labour left.

In the April issue of the SWP’s Socialist Review journal, after an uncomfortable reference to the situation in Iraq, the editorial ends with the usual call for mass protests in order to put pressure on Blair to stop the war:

This is a weak and divided government whose future is as uncertain as the military campaign in Iraq. The more we protest, strike and demonstrate against it the more we increase the likelihood that it will be defeated – raising the prospect of an end to the war in Iraq. As the bombs rain down in Baghdad and as the suffering continues there is no time to lose.(1)

Protest politics

This comment only goes to show that the call for more protests was a cover for the vacillating stance of the SWP once the war had actually started. The protest politics of the SWP are used to gloss over the crucial issue that faced the anti-war movement, which was the need to truly become an anti-imperialist current that defended Iraq by calling for the overthrow of the New Labour government. Instead, to the SWP, this one-sided opportunist emphasis on the importance of protests became a way of avoiding the necessity of developing a principled and flexible politics in to respond to a changing situation. This is not to suggest that mass protests are unimportant, but they require political leadership based upon revolutionary strategic principles and objectives if they are to have a long-term significance. For the SWP, however, the call for more protests had become a convenient device to try and disguise the indecision, lack of direction and poor leadership in a situation of actual war. To the SWP, it was as if time stopped before March 19, 2003 when war started. What was actually required was a strategy that emphasises the need to bring down the New Labour government and replace it with a government based upon democratic structures of genuine mass participation.

The SWP editorial could not even call for the removal of Blair and was instead content to repeat its utopian and ineffective call for protests to put pressure on Blair to stop the war. In this context, the editorial even expresses the hope that the government will be somehow defeated and so the war will be stopped.(2) But this view is expressed almost as a despairing hope rather than representing a perspective with any real political content. For the only way that Blair can actually be defeated is by bringing down the New Labour government. Hence the word defeating is used in an ambiguous and abstract way, an empty generality which could mean a variety of things to different types of people. It is the use of radical language to gloss over the actual unwillingness of the SWP to call unambiguously for the bringing down of New Labour. So this use of the term defeating Blair is another way of trying to keep pressure politics attractive to those in the anti-war movement – just at the point when many must have questioned the point of pressuring New Labour.

Peace through revolutionary struggle

The SWP’s politics is based on the moral and ethical assumption that war is immoral and needs to be opposed. So peace becomes the only possible and required outcome of this stance. In contrast, revolutionary Marxism shows that the contradictory nature of capitalism means that war is an integral aspect of the existing social relations, and is an attempt to displace these contradictions. Hence the only way to realise peace is by revolutionary struggle against the imperatives of global capital. But to the SWP, this approach is for the long-term, and the immediate and realistic short-term aim is to struggle for peace, and to therefore carry out protests and make demands for peace. Thus when war breaks out, the SWP are disorientated because capital has not acted according to what they thought was possible. This approach represents an idealist outlook, one of trying to modify the actions and policies of capital without directly and decisively opposing the present system. Reality has its own logic, however, and those who are not prepared for a sudden turn of events find themselves in political crisis.

In order to provide ideological comfort to their supporters, the SWP editorial describes New Labour as a weak and divided government.(3) This view is not without its truth, but if not understood in its contradictory aspects it becomes formal and dogmatic. For it is increasingly obvious that the New Labour government has become politically unstable and liable to splits and differences. But it is precisely this context which explains why Blair was so willing to support Bush and go to war against Iraq. For Blair understood that with the increasing disaffection of traditional supporters, the only way to sustain New Labour is to become even more openly imperialist, nationalist and chauvinist. Furthermore, Blair recognises alongside Bush that war is becoming central to upholding the interests of global capital. This is why to consistently oppose war is to oppose New Labour and to call for a revolutionary alternative. Instead, the SWP considers that the futile tactic of trying to change the mind of New Labour could somehow stop the war.

In the May issue of Socialist Review, an article by John Rees attempts to provide an overall evaluation of the Stop the War movement.(4) Rees, one of the main leaders of the STWC, begins with a description of the impressive scale and scope of the national and international demonstrations, and he argues that:

We now know the profound impact that this movement had on the British government. Tony Blair warned both civil servants and his family that he might lose his job and contingency plans were drawn up to bring British troops back from the Gulf.

This comment seems to be an expression of radical defiance, an indication that even if the anti-war movement did not succeed in its aims it still came very close to realising its objectives.

Such a view may have the desired effect of consoling some supporters of STWC about the apparent narrowness of their defeat. What it does not explain is why they were defeated, and what this indicates about the connected limitations of protest politics. For what Rees cannot explain is why such high levels of militancy and campaigning were ultimately unsuccessful and even put on the defensive by the actual advent of war. The inability of Rees to outline a cogent answer to these points is that he does not recognise that Blair and Bush are prepared to take political risks, and are committed to ruthlessly ensuring that their strategic and military tasks are practically realised in the best interests of global capital.

Rees seems to agree with the common sense and pragmatic view that New Labour policy is flexibly defined by nothing more than spin and public opinion polls. Consequently he considers it was possible to get New Labour and Blair to back down over the war. But New Labour policy is more coherent than an expression of popularity contests. It is actually dictated by the contemporary requirements of global capital, which is why Blair was so adamant in his support of Bush and the overthrow of the Iraqi regime. Regardless of what he might have said to the media, Blair was prepared not to back down, and this is precisely what caused a problem for the STWC leadership.

In his article, Rees seems to acknowledge the necessity for the anti-war movement to go beyond its protest origins and preoccupations: This is an important point: the anti-war movement is not only a protest movement taking action out of principle, it is also a movement powerful enough to actually change the political course of British society.(5) Rees’ comment is actually strong on rhetoric and sadly lacking in real theoretical and political content. For in practice, Rees rejects the perspective of mobilising to defeat the New Labour government. A general call to change the course of British society is absolutely meaningless. New Labour is, after all, the government.

Only a call to go beyond it can connect the protests to a coherent and strategic vision to transform society in a democratic and participatory manner.

Rees might suggest that what he is advocating will facilitate the anti-war movement’s transformation into an ambitious political entity. Firstly, he argues:

One obvious solution is that the supporters of the organised left grow in numbers. The more the socialist organisations grow the greater the clarity and mobilisation capacity of the whole movement grows. (6)

But the question of political coherence is not merely provided by increasing numbers, because the primary question still remains of what concrete politics and policies can take the movement forward. Rees advocates putting pressure on New Labour to change its policies. Consequently his call for more socialist influence is actually a call for building the influence of opportunist politics with the aim of influencing existing British society.

Trade unionists

Rees also calls for greater trade union and working class involvement in the anti-war movement. But this is not made in terms of the political development of an alternative to New Labour, but rather of using the trade unions in terms of an organisational capacity for pressure group politics:

Each trade unionist has the power to organise greater numbers around them. They have, potentially access to funds, mailing lists and audiences that the unorganised lack. More than this, such activity brings pressure directly to bear on the Labour government.(7)

This patronising description of the role of trade unionists is an expression of how Rees envisages the role of the working class. He wants to encourage a new layer of activists to be involved, who will be prepared to help with the donkey work. Rees’ elitist view towards trade unionists is connected to his pressure group mentality. He considers that politics is all about the implementation of pressure by a presumably unthinking rank and file. The invasion of Iraq, together with a whole range of reactionary New Labour policies, has produced a tangible shift away from the Blair government. Many trade unions are facing calls from below for an end to affiliation to Labour. Votershave deserted Blair in droves. One of the least publicised marches during the war was of 10,000 Muslims in the East End of London. They protested outside the offices of a local MP who backed the invasion and may well put up a candidate at the next election.

Rees tries to make an adjustment to these developments by writing: On the left, in the unions, among the Muslim community, hundreds of thousands of people want to see a radical alternative to New Labour. Rees’s call for a genuine pole of attraction built by broader forces than the existing Left seems an expression of the present diverse and plural aspiration to go beyond the limits of New Labour. The actual political content is to try and channel mass struggles into the organisational needs and political requirements of the SWP. For the only organisation that Rees presently envisages being built as a necessary political organisation is the revolutionary party, defined exclusively as the SWP. In this context the anti-war movement is considered to be a united front that acts to facilitate the process of building the SWP. This point is diplomatically absent from the Rees article on the development of the anti-war coalition but is constantly articulated and defended by articles on the party question.(8)

Movements such as the STWC are considered as essentially reformist from which the SWP is differentiated as revolutionary:

But genuine unity of action depends on separation on matters of principle such as reform and revolution. We cannot properly determine those immediate issues on which we can unite unless we also properly, and organisationally, separate over matters of principle.(9)

The anti-war movement is envisaged as one homogenous reformist bloc, and only the SWP is considered to be revolutionary.

Two conclusions emerge from this viewpoint. Firstly, it is necessary to accommodate to the perceived unmoving reformist consciousness of the STWC participants.

Secondly, the only way that rigid reformist ideas can be transformed into revolutionary ideas is by organisational recruitment into the SWP.

Thus the SWP does not effectively consider the necessity to develop politics that relates to people in struggle and tries to challenge the limitations of existing ideas and practices. For ideas and social practices have a constant process of self-movement which shows the possibility for often seemingly entrenched reformist and reactionary views to be transformed into a potentially revolutionary standpoint. Real revolutionary politics acts to facilitate the process of transforming existing views, and overcome the accommodation to existing dominant ideologies and acceptance of reformist ideas. Instead the SWP seeks to accommodate to presumed fixed reformist ideas as the organisational basis to win the maximum number of people to its party political ranks. This is why the SWP considered the STWC movement as a convenient political vehicle. It obtained a leadership position that enabled it to accommodate to what it considered to be reformist consciousness and at the same time obtain maximum political influence for the possibility of recruiting to the revolutionary organisation.

In practice, however, the SWP was increasingly tailing behind the spontaneous emergence of a popular mood, which was that of the need to challenge the reactionary politics of New Labour. This point is illustrated by Rees’s view that the Labour left rebellion could have stopped the war: “The critical moment came around the time of the second vote in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 March. Accident had some role to play in all of this. Had Clare Short resigned alongside Robin Cook, thus ensuring the backbench rebellion was even larger than it was, Britain might well have been forced out of the war.”(10) This type of wishful thinking perpetuates the myth that the Labour left can somehow transform New Labour and overcome its present reactionary character. It expresses an ideological illusion that Blair does not represent the party, and that it is still politically productive to try and maintain the Labour Party.

Plurality and diversity

The plurality and diversity of the anti-war movement represented people who had illusions in the UN, but it also had more militant and anti-imperialist sections which came to represent the dominant mood of the anti-war movement after the war had started. For it was shown conclusively that the UN could not stop war, and that instead the Bush and Blair administration had effectively bypassed it in order to start the war against Iraq. In this context, the demonstrations of March and April, whilst smaller, were more militant and increasingly expressed a mood of opposition to the politics of New Labour. Hence it was not surprising that placards were evident in March and April calling for regime change in Britain. Thus the spontaneous enthusiasm of the marchers was beginning to articulate a mood of both defiance and the need for political alternatives to New Labour.

The STWC leaders have interpreted this militant mood as a willingness for support for an endless diet of demonstrations, meetings and more protests. Certainly there will be dedicated support for continuing the campaign against the occupation of Iraq. Also the prospect of more militaristic action by the representatives of global capital will generate the potential for future mass anti-war struggles. But it is also important to understand that the rapid growth and mass scope of the anti-war movement expressed an opposition to the old and a desire for the new. The anti-war movement was an important beginning of increasing discontent with existing political structures and the spontaneous articulation of the need for the development to an alternative. In this context, the movement is a worthy ally of the global anticapitalist movement. The SWP has attempted to reduce its character to reformism. Instead within the shell of apparent protest, was the emergence of a social movement with a yearning for a better world. This is what we must build on to go beyond New Labour and in so doing go beyond global capitalism.

Phil Sharpe

References

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Aug 03 2003

Blair, Bush and the Iraqi occupation: reality bites

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 2:56 pm

With a secure and supplicant Iraq still a long way off, Nick Clarke looks at the reality that faces Bush and his War on Terror and Blair and his weapons of mass destruction.

On May 1st, President Bush announced the official end of the second war with Iraq. Four months later, barely a day fails to go by without another serious armed assault on the occupying forces. It’s becoming a cliché, but more US and UK forces have been killed during the peace than during the war. And still those elusive Iraqi WMD have not been found. Blair and his coterie still attempt to convince an increasingly sceptical British public that they are out there somewhere. The Labour government still stands by the internationally discredited hoax that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material from the African state of Niger. On the other hand, Bush and his ideologues have given up pretending that WMDs were their primary cause for the invasion.

Labour’s smoking gun

It should not be under-estimated what effect those mythical WMD’s are having on the governments of the coalitionUK, USA, Australia and Spain. There are now official enquiries taking place in all these countries reflecting the returning mood of popular and vocal scepticism that existed in those countries (and many others) in the days leading up to the invasion. Although sounding increasingly desperate, Blair insists they will be found. This is despite the fact that coalition forces have captured most of the deck of cards – the 55 most wanted sons and daughters of the Baathist regime. Surely one of them would have revealed their location in exchange for a comfortable and anonymous exile Nazi-style? This, together with 200,000 occupying troops roaming the country and of course the wide range of surveillance options targeted on Iraq, means that they are either bloody well hidden or these WMD do not exist in any state of readiness (45 minutes or other), or in quantities that could be effective.

While the limited remit of Hutton’s enquiry into the tragic death of Dr Kelly has thrown some light onto the murkier workings of government and the way it treats its employees, it has succeeded in deflecting from the central issues of where are the promised WMDs and did the government deliberately mislead the people. Alistair Campbell’s feud with journalist, Andrew Gilligan, and the BBC was a great diversion from Labour’s own smoking gun. Unfortunately David Kelly’s death was the collateral damage that had to be sustained for Blair and Labours’ survival. It is perhaps ironic that while Campbell attacked Gilligan for not verifying his source’s statements regarding the misleading 45 minutes, the intelligence on the 45 minute claim was second-hand, unverified hearsay.

While it is satisfying to see some of the smugness wiped off the face of New Labour at Hutton’s enquiry, we should be under no illusions that its conclusions will lay bare the truth of why Blair took us to war. Although only in its preliminary stages at the time of writing, it is likely it will produce some recommendations about the government’s treatment of civil servants and the responsibility of the media, in particular the BBC, but it is unlikely to lift the moral cover for Labour’s imperialist intervention.

WMD used against the Iraqi people

It must not be forgotten that WMD, by the tonne-load, were used in this war by the USAF and the RAF. Uranium tipped ordnance – very real WMD – litter the country polluting the land and the water, threatening the health of the ordinary people of Iraq. No less destructive, to the unsuspecting Iraqi who accidentally disturbs one, are the hordes of unexploded cluster bombs lying hidden across the country. On top of this there is also the scarcity of clean drinking water, food and healthcare. All this on a people that have suffered the brutal dictatorship of Saddam and a decade of UN sanctions.

The US’s pledge to bring civilisation, freedom and security to Iraq is an obscene joke; and they are starting to feel the heat. US casualties are multiplying day by day. Not only are the numbers of dead increasing, but over 500 have been injured since the official end of operations. There are British casualties too. However, coalition forces are covered in body armour and have technologically advanced firepower. The vast majority of Iraqis have no such protection, including those civilians caught in US indiscriminate shooting after their forces have come under attack. How many ordinary Iraqis have been injured, killed or detained by the occupying forces since the start of the war?

US climbdown

The optimism of the Bush administration is wearing thinner and thinner. The devastating bomb attacks on the Jordanian embassy and the UN headquarters, both in Baghdad, and the killing of over 100 people, including a leading Shiite cleric, in Najaf are just the most high profile examples of the failure of US security.

Bush’s popularity is just starting to ebb. As the next US presidential elections move nearer Democratic contenders are starting to become a bit braver, struggling free from the bi-partisan consensus that has existed in the two years since 9/11. They are trying to get noticed by criticising Bush over his foreign policy and on economic issues. The cost of pursuing the war on terrorism is not going to be cheap and it is the American working class who will end up paying for it either in tax dollars or through active service. The US is back-pedalling, after originally claiming they would go it alone if necessary. They are now looking to share the burden of the Iraqi occupation. A resolution, approved by Bush, will be put before the UN Security Council calling for the creation of a multi-national force, and looking for more foreign financial contributions to rebuild the country. Through tentative talks at the UN they are trying to convince other countries to commit more resources, both military and economic, although they will want to retain command. No doubt the horse trading will revolve around construction and service contracts that will be allocated in exchange for such aid.

This will be a huge climb down for the Bush administration and its leading hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the annual cost of the US military occupation at between $8 billion and $29 billion, depending on the number of troops required. However with escalating budget deficits at home, Bush is desperate to procure financial contributions from other states. The obvious candidates are France, Germany and Russia – countries that the US government verbally abused after they failed to support the war. It will be interesting to see if imperialist equilibrium is restored to the UN Security Council.

Impact of the War on Terror

Even beyond Iraq’s borders, Bush and Blair’s global ‘war on terror’ has been a failure. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have been regrouping. There have been some major clashes between them and the Afghan army, backed up by US forces. US military power has still failed to crush this medieval force. US soldiers are being killed and injured here too. Hamid Karzai’s authority barely reaches the outskirts of Kabul and the much heralded reconstruction has not been delivered, as international focus shifted to the more lucrative pickings of Iraq.

Advocates of Islamic supremacism, coordinated by al-Qaeda, have continued to carry out attacks throughout the world from Indonesia to East Africa, from Russia to Morocco, killing injuring and terrorising thousands. Many commentators now report followers of many of al-Qaeda’s satellites joining the jihad on Iraqi soil to confront the US military machine.

The impact of 9/11 cannot be underestimated. Repressive powers have been significantly increased in the UK and US. These have taken the form of the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act, the Asylum Bill and the Patriot Act, which have had a huge impact on democratic rights and civil liberties in both countries. In the US, the vilification of celebrity opponents of the war and state intimidation of ordinary anti-war activists are everyday occurrences, under the guise of anti terrorism. The state can now search your library records with impunity! In the aftermath of any significant incident, officialdom’s first thought is to confirm or deny terrorist involvement. Witness the recent massive power cuts that affected the US and Canada’s eastern seaboard, followed a few days later by a similar incident that affected London. The first question asked was – terrorist attack? However, it appears that both were caused by chronic under-investment in public utilities by the profitplundering private sector. Ah, the benefits of privatisation and free trade!

The failure to stabilise and subjugate Iraq and the Iraqi people has also dampened the expectations of those who thought a swift victory in Iraq would resolve the Palestinian war in Zionism’s favour. Instead those following Bush’s Road Map have lost their way as Sharon’s government attempts to derail it by continuing to execute those Palestinian activists who fight back. This at a time when Hamas and Islamic Jihad had called a unilateral ceasefire. Again the US government tasted a big slice of humble pie as it approached Arafat, who they side-lined and humiliated, to try and broker a further ceasefire. However the US and Israel are adamant that they have a veto over the appointment of a Prime Ministerial replacement for Mahmoud Abbas – and they have the audacity to lecture others on democracy. No doubt the Iraqis will be expected to abide by similar guidelines when elections are held under US rule.

Across the globe we see imperialist concessions being withdrawn as part of the War on Terror. For example, the Indonesian military has ended the tentative ceasefire in Aceh and stepped up repression once more; Colombia is under a state of emergency, having its own Plan drawn up by the US and implemented by President Uribe; Spain’s Aznar government has banned Batasuna (the Basque nationalist party); and the British government continues to postpone democratic elections to the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Where now for the anti-war movement?

Internationally the anti-war movement has to continue to raise the slogans of all occupying troops out of Iraq and self-determination for the Iraqi people. In Britain the movement has a special responsibility because it is our ruling class that is riding shotgun for US imperialism, hoping to get the scraps and left-overs, like some loyal canine. The manipulation and deceit of the Blair administration contributed to Dr Kelly’s death. The Labour government must continue to be challenged on the uncomfortable questions over WMD. They must not be allowed to forget that their primary reason for war was a hoax that led to the death and injury of thousands of Iraqis, destroying their country. At the same time it has resulted in the death and maiming of hundreds of working class squaddies.

It is over issues such as the war in Iraq that the bankruptcy of British parliamentary democracy is exposed to the full glare of public attention. Parliament’s failure to bring to account the government is highlighted by the farce over dishonest dossiers and vanishing WMDs. Nor must Jack McConnell’s supine role as Scotland’s First Minister be forgotten. He relayed Blair’s lies to the Scottish Parliament, finding all too willing support amongst New Labour MSPs. The Hutton enquiry has given a small glimpse of the secrecy that pervades British bourgeois democracy. It illustrates its limitations and the class interests it upholds. Something of the political role of the intelligence community, in the shape of John Scarlett, the Joint Intelligence Committee and other little-publicised bodies with an array of initials, has been revealed. The anti war movement must not neglect this denial of democracy as an area of concern.

Socialists must be at the forefront of arguing for genuine, active, participatory democracy. Transparency and openness are key ingredients in any working class organisation – trade union, tenants association or political party. They should also be a pre-requisite of any public body, especially government.

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Dec 03 2002

If You’re Happy And You Know It – Bomb Iraq

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:53 pm

If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky,
Pakistan is looking shifty,
North Korea is too risky,
Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think that someone’s dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections,
Let’s look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

It’s pre-emptive non-aggression, bomb Iraq.
To prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They’ve got weapons we can’t see,
And that’s all the proof we need,
If they’re not there, they must be,
Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam’s gone mad,
With the weapons that he had,
And he tried to kill your dad,
Bomb Iraq.

If corporate fraud is growin’, bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin’, bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy,
And hiding that ain’t easy,
And your manhood’s getting queasy,
Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We’ll call it treason,
Let’s make war not love this season,
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

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Dec 03 2002

The oil and military Industries behind Bush

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:36 pm

Matt Siegfried, a socialist and trade unionist activist from Detroit, examines the motivation behind the US government’s obsession with war against Iraq.

This article originally appeared in Fourthwrite.

The United States is on the verge of war with Iraq. A section of the Bush administration, reflecting a section of the US ruling class, has long been pursuing an assault on Iraq to overthrow Saddam Hussein. It will come as no surprise to anyone that this group is intimately associated with the oil and, to a lesser extent, the military industries.

Dick Cheney, Vice-President, former Defence Secretary and chief of the Halliburton Corporation, is the main representative of these interests in the Bush administration. Halliburton, at a nominal value of over 18 billion dollars, is the largest oil supply company in the world. Giant oil corporation, Chevron-Texaco, has named one of its tankers after Condoleeza Rice, Bush’s National Security Advisor! If Chevron-Texaco needs parts in Nigeria or new oil wells in the Arctic wilderness, then Halliburton is there. The runways that launch U.S. bombing sorties on Afghan wedding parties and the prisoner camp at Guantanamo, in occupied Cuba, were both built by Halliburton.

This is not a conspiracy, nor is it a coincidence – it is how US capitalism works. The government sees its primary role to defend and extend US corporate interests. There is a constant revolving door between government and business. This, of course, is not a uniquely American reality but one shared with all the capitalist governments of the world. Utilising the bellicose mood of the post-September 11th political atmosphere, the US right wing has made a concerted effort to win the government to launching a new Gulf War.

The hawks have been in the ascendancy since last spring, though not without contradictions and real opposition from parts of the ruling class, government and military, who fear some of the consequences of a new war. These consequences include the prospect of a jump in oil prices and the inflationary pressure that would affect the already troubled economy; the further destabilisation of a region already seething from the
War on Terrorism, continued sanctions on Iraq and US patronage of Israel; and strains on an increasingly active volunteer army’s resources, to name but a few.

Old and new enemies

Some of them want revenge for their failure to dislodge Saddam Hussein in the last war and all the attempts made over the last decade to isolate and replace him. This looks and sounds a bit like the red-faced rage of the school-yard bully whose attempts at intimidation go unheeded. He can not remain a bully if others refuse to be bullied. Another motivation is that the US administration has little to show for its War on Terrorism. Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden have, so far, been unwilling to offer up their corpses for a trophy photo. Though the imperialists have clearly made many gains in Afghanistan, the looking-and-no-finding war seems to have powered down without any of the big issues being resolved in the administration’s favour. A war on Iraq would deflect charges of being soft on Al-Qaeda and the Axis of Evil from the far right of American politics and coincidentally, some Democrats. When other enemies prove too elusive, Saddam’s nefarious star tends to rise in the US government’s psyche. They seem to wilt without an enemy to compare to Hitler.

Oil, more oil and inter-imperialist rivalry

Oil remains a motivation – and not just oil within the boundaries of Iraq. While strictly economic aims are sometimes simplistically laid out as the primary reasons behind US war policy, it would be foolish to underestimate the power of oil interests in shaping American policy.

Competition among the imperialist powers over access to and control of oil has increased since the collapse of the USSR. One reason for this is that previously off-limits resources of the former Soviet Union have opened up, leading to a new Great Game for the riches of the new successor states in Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. These are now conveniently hosting U.S. military bases after the war in Afghanistan. Why leave all that oil to the Russians and the Central Asians? The privatisation of the old state energy companies is a potential windfall of many billions of dollars for US oil interests. All that is required is that the new companies partner with the US corporations and upgrade their facilities with the parts and know-how of the Halliburton Corporation.

Another reason is that the old equilibrium between the imperialist powers facing a common Soviet threat has broken down. This means that each is more likely to pursue its own energy goals, including their own direct access to oil. This is what is at the heart of France’s opposition to sanctions on Iraq. While many countries buy oil from the IPC which was nationalised in 1972, France is the only Western power which has partial ownership of the IPC. The sanctions prevent France from fully exploiting that relationship.

The US and UK, with four of the top five oil companies, were frozen out of investment in the IPC and therefore control over 10% of the world’s oil. Is it really any surprise then, that these two countries are the most adamant about continuing the sanctions and going to war, whatever the consequences for the Iraqi people? Japan and Germany have almost no indigenous oil resources, so the second and third largest economies in the world have to buy their way into the oil market. While their wealth provides them with access, they can not ‘protect’ their interests militarily, due to being defeated powers in the Second World War.

Thus they remain beholden to the US to protect their oil access. For the US, control of oil means control over its friends who are also its rivals. In the largest gas bill in history, the US made Germany and Japan cough up billions of dollars for their Kuwait oil in the last Gulf War. Recession and political problems at home make Germany and Japan much less willing to do this again.

Pax Americana – a policy shared by Republicans and Democrats

The more mercenary war-mongers in the US government see control over oil as the starting point of their policy, rather than the regime of Saddam Hussein. When they look at maps of the world they see resources and zones of influence, rather than countries and people. With all that has happened in the last decade they see an urgent need to reshape parts of the world in their own interests and, by virtue of being the only superpower, almost the ordained obligation to do so.

This attitude is not new with the Bush administration. The humanitarian interventions of the Clinton administration were rooted in the same arrogant view, which holds that the Middle East is too important to be left to its people. The goal of this patrician group is to impose a Pax Americana on the region. The costs and consequences of such brutal folly can only be guessed at, but the destruction Israel is inflicting on Palestine, is a good place to start. Iraqi oil is part of the motivation. Oil in general is a greater motivation. But the root of the cowboy attitude is the nature of capitalism and imperialism in general, whoever practices it. That is the violent imposition of the interests of the few, the rulers of the capitalist great powers on the vast majority of the world’s people. The ruined lives of the many underlie the profit and the power of a few.

Another World is Possible – Socialism

We, the working people of the world, are not simply exploited masses to be pitied. We are a power, who, by fighting for our own interests, fights for the liberation of all humankind. Crises are currently shaking continents as a consequence of the neo-liberal crusade of the last twenty years. From Jakarta and Buenos Aires, from Johannesburg and Jenin, from Seattle and Genoa, people have marched under the banner, Another World is Possible. In the face of another US-led war, it is time to give that world a name – Socialism – and urgently, to begin to change it. We need a common, rational and shared utilisation of what nature, finitely, has endowed this planet – that is Socialism.

Working people, the exploited masses also exist in the US, though usually more silently than in the rest of the world. Workers in the US need to enter this struggle with their own voices, rather than fall behind those voices who would speak for them. Should the US government succeed in launching their war, despite the mounting protest, we will continue to oppose them. If they triumph in their plans we will demonstrate the perfidy of their victory and use the lessons learned to resist the next war, which will surely come. Wars are in the nature of imperialism and we must press home the reality – to defeat war it is necessary to defeat capitalism.

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