Use the power: stop the war

Individually, we may be powerless against the state, but collectively, the British working class has the ultimate veto over the war – they cannot fight it without us.

Proletarian writers

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Proletarian writers

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Despite the million-plus death toll and endless suffering inflicted upon Iraq, despite all the cynical efforts to sow sectarian division among her people, and despite the vast expenditure on the latest in the technology of mass slaughter, imperialism is more clearly than ever facing defeat at the hands of the hugely popular resistance.

Hopes of finding some compensatory ‘humanitarian’ success in the no-less-criminal war against Afghanistan lie in tatters, as even Afghan puppet President Karzai and Pakistani President Zardari are stung into protest against the latest atrocities committed against women and children by US forces on the Afghan/Pakistan border, driving yet more patriots into the ranks of the resistance.

Yet the threats against the independence of Iran, Abkhazia and South Ossetia continue, as does the war of words against Zimbabwe and the DPRK and the endless meddling in Somalia and Sudan.

Whilst the British public is encouraged to believe that war will quietly peter out, leaving the politics of ‘business as usual’ to re-establish itself, the reality is quite different. The crisis of overproduction, of which the spectacular downfall of such US financial powerhouses as Fannie Mae,Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers are but the latest twists, continues to put fire under the feet of Anglo-American imperialism, driving it further down the war road.

Hell bent on securing and extending their stranglehold on the world’s markets and resources, it is unlikely that Washington and London will long forswear the prosecution of further wars, even when wiser heads amongst the bourgeois intelligentsia deem such wars neither affordable nor winnable.

Break with Labour – strike against the war

In the struggle of the British working class to free itself from capitalist exploitation, the biggest obstacle to emancipation remains our practical complicity with the oppression meted out by the British ruling class to those who refuse to bend the knee to imperialist domination. Welcome as are the ‘troops out soon’ resolutions blooming annually at trade-union conferences, welcome as are the demonstrations against the war organised by the Stop the War Coalition and supported by some unions, none of these declarations and protests amounts to a single practical step actually to stop the war.

Yet the working class has at its disposal the weapon of organisation. And it has the power to use this weapon to make the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan impossible to fight. It has the most basic power of all: the power to withdraw its labour from every aspect of the war effort, whether it is the production of war propaganda, the manufacture and transport of munitions, or the actual ‘work’ of combat.

What has so far prevented this from happening on any significant scale is the stifling influence of social democracy, which stands as a sectarian wall between workers in the British imperialist heartland and their oppressed brothers and sisters around the world.

So long as this wall is allowed to stand, every domestic struggle waged by workers – whether in defence of pay and conditions, pension security or decent housing and healthcare – is undermined at every turn, as Labour twitches the strings that keep workers bound close to their class enemies.

Conversely, every practical step that is taken to demonstrate our solidarity with the Iraqi and Afghan resistance helps weaken the grip of Labourism and strengthens the class independence of the proletariat in Britain.

Such a step was that taken at the beginning of the Iraq war by fifteen Aslef train drivers in Motherwell, Scotland, who refused to move arms and ammunition, scuppering plans to move arms by rail to send them to the Gulf. The drivers refused to move ammunition between Glasgow and the Glen Douglas weapons dump.

Unlike the London dockers in 1919, whose refusal to load the Jolly George with munitions intended for the counterrevolutionary war against Russia was a landmark event in the Hands off Russia campaign, these courageous Scottish drivers sadly lacked the support of a working-class movement under strong communist influence, so that their example was allowed to remain for the moment the principled exception that proved the class-collaborating rule.

The more demoralised the army becomes, the harder it gets to recruit new cannon fodder.

Right now, the army has a shortfall approaching the 5,000 mark. In an effort to fill the gaps in its ranks, the army has stepped up its recruitment efforts in schools, even creeping into junior schools with its propaganda lies.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) conference last March spoke out against the army’s practice of fishing for new recruits in schools in working-class areas, using recruitment propaganda thinly disguised as teaching materials.

Already, many teachers and ancillary staff have expressed their outrage at this underhand tactic in various protest actions. Yet by simply withdrawing their labour, they could put an immediate block on schools being used as a vehicle for war propaganda. Better still, by occupying schools on the days previously earmarked for army propaganda, the opportunity could be taken to explain to students the criminality of the wars and express solidarity with those defending their homelands.

What so far prevents such a clear rebuff being given to those who would militarise our schools is lack of organisation. More precisely, it is the disorganising politics of social democracy.

Courageous direct-action protests against the war by isolated individuals or groups, for example breaking into USAF/RAF bases to do some largely symbolic damage to the weapons of war, reflect a much wider popular revulsion against imperialist aggression and are to be applauded. Yet these stunts can be no substitute for the organised power of the working class.

And even where broader campaigns such as those organised by the Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT) are able to draw larger numbers of people into welcome demonstrations against the manufacture of weapons of mass destruction for oppressive wars, the pacifist ‘swords into ploughshares’ thinking that informs these campaigns can never provide the arguments needed to convince British Aerospace workers to down tools.

It is not a case of asking such workers to down tools because ‘making bombs is bad’ in general. It is a case of downing tools in support of the Iraqi and Afghan resistance, explaining how such an act of solidarity will immeasurably strengthen the cause of organised labour against the British capitalists at home.

Make class war on the warmongers

It may be true that, whilst a sermon against war in general may win you a contemptuous pat on the head from workers infected with chauvinism, a call for solidarity with the Iraqi resistance is more likely to get you turned out on your ear. From this we can conclude only that the struggle to break the working class from Labour imperialism is not without difficulty!

But no matter how dark the alley down which you lost your car keys, forsaking that alley for the friendlier light cast by a street lamp around the corner is not going to help find them.

Breaking the link with Labour is not just about getting disillusioned with the failure to deliver council houses and socialised medicine. It is not even just about protesting against illegal wars. It is about leaving the spurious comfort zone behind the skirts of Anglo-American imperialism to stand shoulder to shoulder with the oppressed of the world.

This is an argument that must be had and won before the working class can advance on the road to socialism.

As a first step, workers in the arms industry could learn from the example set on May Day this year by dockers on the west coast of the USA, who defied court injunctions to come out on strike in protest specifically against the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq.

Despite the decision of the International Longshore & Warehouse Union (ILWU) leadership, made under legal pressure, to withhold official sponsorship for the strike, tens of thousands of dockworkers went ahead and shut down ports in a protest against the war.

For eight hours, a string of ports along the West Coast, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, were brought to a standstill, halting movement of about 10,000 containers.

If workers can achieve this first step in the US itself, right in the belly of the imperialist beast, then this raises the bar for organised labour in Britain. Imagine the shock to the imperialist system that would be occasioned by the withdrawal of labour even for just one day from the manufacture of armaments!

And, of course, it isn’t just about direct arms manufacture. The production of war planes is intimately bound up with civil aviation, just as the production of nuclear bombs is integrated with civil nuclear energy. Steel works produce steel for saucepans and tanks. Trains don’t just transport soldiers and military equipment; they also carry office workers to staff the MoD bureaucracy.

In a modern industrial economy, every aspect of commodity production is interrelated, and every strike potentially weakens the imperialist war effort. Why not spell this out next time local council workers or teachers or postal workers strike over pay and conditions? Why not copy the US dockworkers and tell imperialism: “No Peace, No Work”?

Trouble for imperialism, opportunity for proletarian advance

In the very first issue of Proletarian, in August 2004, we wrote:

“We must refuse to cooperate in any way with the war effort – whether serving in the forces, making weapons, transporting equipment or putting out propaganda in support of the war. Individually, we may be powerless against the state, but collectively, the British working class has the ultimate veto over the war – they cannot fight it without us.”

Four years on, the situation cries out all the louder for this veto to be exercised. The demoralisation of the armed forces from prolonged exposure to the failing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is a measure of the strength of the resistance and the depth of imperialist crisis, as is popular disaffection with the wars and popular disquiet over the ‘credit crunch’ (aka the capitalist overproduction crisis).

The clearer it becomes that the occupying forces are losing the unjust war against the Afghan and Iraqi people, the harder it becomes to conceal from the soldiers the criminal character of the war they have been seduced into fighting, and the harder it becomes to maintain discipline and motivation – let alone recruitment.

The experience of fighting an unjust, criminal war, and losing it, is demoralising the British armed forces to an unprecedented degree. The MOD’s recent annual report admitted that the armed forces’ ability to respond to challenges beyond Iraq and Afghanistan has deteriorated over the past year, preventing them from meeting the government’s strategic objectives.

Nearly 60 percent of the military complains of serious or critical obstacles to initiating new missions. And even were they to shelve all their other warmongering plans and just concentrate on Iraq and Afghanistan, the Financial Times reports the MOD’s gloomy view that “the military has neither the resources nor the structure to sustain these operations indefinitely and fighting them has come at the expense of the military’s readiness to do other things, including training for large-scale war fighting”. In the MOD’s own words, “the overall readiness of the force structure continued to deteriorate throughout the year”. (‘UK military unable to meet objectives’ by Stephen Fidler, 22 July 2008)

Grumbling in the ranks may speak more about poor equipment, shoddy accommodation and inadequate compensation for war injuries than it does about the criminal character of the war, but it is the low morale engendered by fighting and losing an unjust war that makes this grumbling audible to a wider public.

And whilst one soldier may post on the Army Rumour Service website the comment that “We need a union not to strike but to stand up for us”, there are an increasing number of ‘deserters’ (ie, conscientious objectors) who have the courage to vote with their feet and withdraw their labour from the killing machine.

Let nobody comfort themselves with the illusion that all these difficulties, however serious, will for long turn imperialism from the path of war. War-weariness, public grumbling and Stop the War demos alone will do nothing to take the edge off the oppressor’s need to face down third-world challenges to US hegemony and secure market share at the expense of imperialist rivals, by any means necessary.

What these difficulties for imperialism do offer, though, is a golden opportunity for the working class to put the boot into this warmongering degeneracy. We have the power to stop all imperialist wars. Let’s use it.

> Iraq – the occupation continues – August 2004

> Leaflet – The working class has the POWER to stop the war. Let s USE it – August 2008