War is a test for principles
Imperialist war is always a testing time for organisations that oppose military action aimed at the conquest of other nations. The brutal Anglo-American invasion of Iraq launched on behalf of transnational oil and other corporations is proving no exception to this rule, even though large numbers of people remain anti-war.
The pressure on opponents of the war to toe the government line is immense. Most of the media demands unconditional support for "our boys" as they carry out the instructions of their political masters. New Labour ministers like David Blunkett imply that opposing the attack is a treasonable offence as they play the patriotic card.
War is by its very nature a display of naked state power. This reminds people of what political power eventually rests on and such a demonstration of sheer violence can also have the effect of weakening resistance. The impression given is that change for the better seems more remote and more difficult to achieve than ever before.
There are countless examples of groups and parties buckling in the face of a range of social, political and ideological pressures that accompany imperialist war. Before World War I, socialist parties in Europe had pledged that they would have nothing to do with any war fought for the spoils of empire. But in August 1914, the Social Democratic Party in Germany and the Labour Party in Britain voted for war and millions died as a result.
It is, of course, far easier to hold on to principles when they remain a series of fine words in a programme or policy. What we have to measure is what happens to them when the action starts, when principles meet the cold light of events.
The Movement for a Socialist Future has opposed the prospect of an attack on Iraq since Bush and Blair put it on the agenda last year. We rejected the manoeuvres at the UN and the various "reasons" given for launching a pre-emptive attack on Iraq. Our statements have tried to demonstrate the economic interests of globalised capitalism that have driven the British and American governments.
The MSF insisted that it was for the Iraqi people to deal with the Saddam Hussein dictatorship. We identified New Labour as equally responsible for any war as the Bush regime, resisting the tendency to describe Blair as a "poodle" or join the drift towards a crude anti-Americanism.
Now that the war on Iraq has started, everyone is obliged to take a position on certain concrete questions. Socialists have to answer the following: are the Iraqis right to take action to defend their country, despite the fact they are ruled by a dictatorship? Should the Iraqis be free to determine their own future free from foreign interference? Isn't the real threat to "British interests" the actions of the New Labour government? We have supported the right of the Iraqis to defend themselves militarily and have called for the building of a movement to bring down the New Labour regime.
How have others faced up to this challenge? The Socialist Workers Party is probably the largest and most active group on the left in Britain. It is a key force in the Stop the War Coalition. But if you think they might take the opportunity of the substantial anti-war movement to put the main issues up front, you will be sorely disappointed.
In the Socialist Worker of March 29, there are plenty of reports of anti-war protests in Britain and throughout the world. What, however, is the SWP's perspective for the movement? Is it to raise the issue of New Labour as a capitalist government or to argue for self-determination for Iraq? No, the aspirations are so low as to face the danger of falling below the horizon.
Chris Harman, editor of the paper and one of the top leaders of the SWP, urges people to "keep up the protests" and adds: "Setbacks on the battlefield and protests internationally can still force Bush and Blair to abandon their barbarity in Iraq, just as the US abandoned its attempts to subjugate Vietnam 30 years ago."
So, according to Harman, the task is not to put regime change at home on the agenda but to restrict the energy of the mass movement to an attempt to get Bush and Blair to pull out of Iraq. They are, it is implied, open to pressure and persuasion. Protests and military "setbacks" can get them to change their minds, as if the invasion of Iraq was simply an everyday policy decision.
The attack is, however, inextricably bound up with the very nature of the capitalist system in general and the immediate needs of the global corporations at a time of growing overproduction and slump. In other words, there is an inescapable logic to this invasion which is greater than this or that decision taken in Washington or London.
The second part of Harman's sentence is also untrue. In Vietnam, the American army was comprehensively defeated on the battlefield by the forces of the national liberation movement. That is the primary reason why the United States eventually had to leave. Protests were a factor, but played a supporting role to the bravery of the National Liberation Front.
Just in case you think we are a little unfair on Harman, his conclusion will set you straight. He tells his readers that even if Bush and Blair go on with the war in Iraq, "they can certainly be made to think twice before embarking on another murderous adventure". So that's it. We're stuck with Bush, Blair and globalised capitalism. But we have a new slogan - "Make them think twice!" It is, concludes Harman, a "benefit for humanity as a whole that is well worth struggling for".
Harman could argue that elsewhere in the paper, Socialist Worker states that it is for revolution and not reform and for a new revolutionary party. But how you face up to the concrete issues posed by the invasion of Iraq is what counts, not fine words about the principles of socialism. On this front, it is just protest, protest and then more protest.
This is the politics of the status quo at a time when the issue facing people all over the planet today, right now, is not making capitalism "think twice" but challenging for economic and political power over Bush, Blair and the corporations. The mass global movement against the invasion of Iraq is already much greater than a simple protest. It has become a social movement which raises the issue of true democratic self-determination and representation. We have to remove the ability of unaccountable governments to wage war and end the profit system that turns to violence in times of crisis. That is what we have to put top of our agenda and aspire to. Nothing less will do.
for a Socialist Future