May Day 2003 takes place in the aftermath of the brutal imperialist conquest of Iraq. The US led war has profoundly altered the world. The globe is much more dangerous and violent. Where is next on the White House’s list of targets – Syria, Iran, North Korea or Cuba?
For system change!
As the war has shown, the struggle against US imperialism and the system of capitalism is a life and death issue for many millions of people. Political, social and economic shocks are having a profound effect on the outlook of working people and youth everywhere. A new generation of youth, particularly school students, are being ‘blooded’ in struggle against wars and capitalism. On May Day, a day of international solidarity between working people, socialists must with renewed energy commit themselves to the task of resisting imperialism and fighting for system change – the overthrow of capitalism. Only the creation of a socialist society – a society based on the needs of people not profits – can see the end of wars and poverty.
Iraq war – a criminal act
The US/British imperialist war against the people of Iraq was a criminal act of huge proportions. It was justified on the basis of a mountain of lies and propaganda from the White House, from Downing Street and from a mainly pro-big business mass media. This was an extremely one-sided conflict. Thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians have been slaughtered and maimed. Millions are without clean water and electricity, leading to many child deaths. Many more will be killed due to the US/British forces’ indiscriminate use of cluster bombs and weapons using depleted uranium. The country suffered widespread looting and destruction. In all of this death and mayhem, the main concern of the US and British forces were to quickly seize control of the oil fields.
A new puppet regime is being formed. Led by Jay Garner, a pro-Israeli arms dealer, the ‘interim administration’ is accountable to Tommy Franks the US forces supreme commander. This new regime will oversee the destruction and privatisation of Iraq’s vast state sectors. Iraqi people will see the further rolling back of their education, their health service and their other essential services. This follows a decade of UN imposed sanctions that led to the death of up to one million Iraqis.
Eventually an administration, ‘Iraqi-run’, may be formed, but, in reality, it will be a ‘democratic’ façade for a US client regime run by hand picked stooges. Despite all their talk of bringing democracy, the US will fiercely resist any prospect of the election of a majority Shia regime, or any other administration not to their liking.
The notion of White House exported democracy coming to Iraq and the Middle East is all the more hypocritical given the past role of US imperialism. The US has supported and brought to power vicious dictatorships all over the world when it suits their interests. This year marks the anniversary of the coup against the socialist government of Allende in Chile. The army tops in direct collaboration of the CIA carried this out. That terrible event, which saw the murder of the cream of the Chilean working class, shows how far the capitalist class will go to safeguard their vital interests.
But Iraqi people are resisting US plans. Mass protests are widespread. The US army has responded by indiscriminately shooting protesters and civilians. One million Shia Muslims made a religious pilgrimage at the end of April that had big political overtones. Many expressed opposition to the invaders, shouting slogans like, "No to Saddam, No to Bush". Furthermore, the country is also increasingly divided along ethnic, religious, national and tribal lines, threatening its eventual break-up. Already neighbouring states, such as Iran, are meddling in Iraq, to enhance their own positions.
Can the UN play a role?
The CWI demands the immediate withdrawal of imperialist forces from Iraq and the Middle East. We say, let the people of Iraq decide their own future. Let the working class own and control the oil, for the benefit of all society.
Some Western governments have called for central UN involvement in post-Saddam Iraq. Many workers and youth believe this is preferable to US imperialist rule. But the UN is not a benign independent body. It is an organisation of nation states dominated by the big capitalist powers. UN rule in post conflict Afghanistan, for example, is merely imperialist rule under a different name. The Afghanis still live in absolute poverty and under the rule of reactionary warlords. Even if the UN ran Iraq, it would be with the back-up force of "international community" troops (i.e. Western dominated imperialist forces). It would not be fundamentally different to the present US imperialist control.
Working people and youth can have no illusions in the ‘anti-war’ stance of governments in France, Germany, Russia or other countries. These administrations opposed war for their own selfish reasons. Now they are desperately trying to get a slice of the post-Saddam cake. They are no friends of the peoples of the neo-colonial world. While denouncing US/British imperialism, the Russian power lays waste to Chechnya, French imperialism meddles in the war torn Ivory Coast, and Germany is now a key occupying force in Afghanistan. At home, all these powers carry out the same neo-liberal policies. Schroeder’s government has embarked on a ferocious cuts package.
Only the working people of Iraq can find a way to end occupation and exploitation, through a mass struggle for fundamental change. Iraq has a rich history of class struggle. And as the events of the last few weeks have illustrated the masses are prepared to resist. With its own independent class organisations, the Iraqi working class, with the assistance of the masses of the Arab world, can struggle to expel imperialism. The building of class organisations may take some time to develop, given the defeats experienced by Iraqi working people, but it is the only way forward.
The ‘alternative’ of Islamic movements is a dead-end for the masses, as the cruel examples of Iran and Afghanistan have shown. It is possible that mass opposition movements in Iraq, with a pronounced Islamic content, can fiercely resist and eventually force a withdrawal of imperialism. But without a decisive break from capitalism, the living conditions of the masses cannot be transformed. Only a mass socialist movement against imperialism, its local ruling puppets and the profit system, can achieve genuine national and social liberation.
The limits of US imperialism
Many workers and youth are now asking what can be done to stop the power of US imperialism, which has led and won wars against Serbia, in Afghanistan and now in Iraq. Many millions marched against an attack on Iraq and yet the US and Britain still went to war.
Certainly the US ruling class possesses a hugely powerful-armed force. However, it is one thing to win a war against the monstrous regimes of the Taleban or Saddam Hussein, which had little support. It is quite another matter if the resistance to imperialist aggression has a popular social base. After all, a peasant army in Vietnam resisted French and then US imperialism for years. This social and national liberation struggle (despite its Stalinist leadership), combined with the mass anti-war demonstrations in the US, forced the US army to pull out of Vietnam.
The recent huge anti-war movement did alter the way the imperialists conducted their war against Iraq. But for a mass movement to stop wars, it requires not just huge protests, important as they are, but also the mass action of the international working class. This includes strike action and general strikes. The whole capitalist machine can be brought to a standstill. The huge strike actions in Italy and Spain against the Iraq war and the neo-liberal policies of the two governments – involving many millions of workers – shows the way forward. By employing these sort of actions and putting forward a socialist programme, mass independent class organisations can not only stop imperialist wars but also led a struggle for the coming to power of the working class.
As imperialism attempts to attack and subordinate other countries mass resistance will grow. A full-scale confrontation with North Korea raises the terrible prospect of the use of nuclear arms. US aggression towards Cuba will ignite the anger of the working peoples of Latin America and the world. Also, the continuing denial of the right to self-determination for the Palestinians, as the US/British "road map" makes clear is the intention of imperialism, will cause further resentment and anger throughout the Arab world.
The ‘other superpower’
The New York Times described the huge anti-war demonstrations on 15 February as "the other superpower". Indeed these were unprecedented protests, in scale and scope. Tens of millions marched in the biggest single day of worldwide protests ever. But for the mass movement against war and imperialism needs to adopt a class approach and a socialist programme. The same can be said of the anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation movement, which has displayed magnificent initiative and mobilised millions over the last few years. Now the global huge opposition to capitalism and imperialist wars needs to make a big leap forward. With the working class and its organisations playing a central role, and with a socialist programme, it would be unstoppable.
The last few years have seen huge opposition movements and popular revolts in Asia and Latin America. This is as a consequence of the terrible conditions the masses face in the so-called ‘Third World’. Half of the planet’s population lives on $2 a day or less. The UN estimates that $40 billion would provide clean drinking water to the one billion people presently without. But this will not be forthcoming from big governments, dominated as they are by rapacious multi-national companies. They have very different priorities. The Bush administration has spent an astronomical $20 billion on waging his colonial war against the Iraqi people.
Despite the media portrayals, the masses of the neo-colonial world are not helplessly accepting the status quo. Attempts at the privatisation of public utilities have suffered serious setbacks and defeats in a number of Central and Southern American countries. Large-scale campaigns have fought privatisation plans by the ANC government in South Africa. In the lead up to May Day 2003, another popular general strike has gripped Zimbabwe, in opposition to the brutal Mugabe regime and huge price rises. Deteriorating economic and social conditions, combined with the corruption and oppression of the ruling elites, have also resulted in search for an alternative.
The election of Left leaders, like Lula in Brazil, sends powerful messages saying the masses want fundamental change. Lula was elected with a huge majority and was expected to carry out real change to the lives of workers and the poor. Unfortunately the Lula government has shown it is not prepared to break with capitalism and to implement a socialist programme. Instead anti-working class policies have been introduced. This will lead to mass disillusionment. The CWI in Brazil campaigns for an independent class policy. There is no ‘alternative’ capitalist route out of crisis and poverty in the continent, as the economic collapse of relatively prosperous Argentina has shown.
In Venezuela we have seen how the forces of reaction can be set back. The bosses’ ‘strike’ last year failed to topple the left populist regime of Hugo Chavez. The reactionary wings of the armed forces in the country were impotent in the face of mass social support for the regime. However, to safeguard the revolution started in Venezuela, and to extend it, the working class needs to build independent organisations and to take the economy, especially the oil industry, into their hands. A workers’ and peasants’ government would prove a beacon for the rest of the continent, leading to other mass movements. Supported by the working class and youth in North America, the Venezuelan revolution would become invincible to capitalist counter-revolution.
The same struggle to build a working class alternative is taking place in Africa and Asia. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement, the CWI in Nigeria, scored the highest radical voted in recent national elections, as part of the National Conscience Party opposition (despite widespread vote rigging by the ruling party).
Unity of the working class, across all religious, tribal, ethnic and national divisions is needed to pose an alternative to the rule of capitalists and big landlords in the neo-colonial world. The United Socialist Party in Sri Lanka, the New Socialist Alternative in India, and the CWI in Kashmir, all part of the CWI, offer working class unity and socialism in contrast to the barbarism of capitalism, and the communalism and national oppression it results in.
In the Western countries too socialists are building an alternative to the right wing parties. This task crucially means the new generation stepping forward. This is now happening in a larger scale than for decades. CWI sections in many countries, including Australia, Germany, Sweden, Britain, Austria, Belgium, Ireland (North and South) and the US and were instrumental in organising or helping to initiate magnificent school strikes against the war. This radicalisation of youth is extremely important. It heralds the willingness of a new generation to take to the road of struggle.
This is also the case in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. After a decade of plummeting living standards as a result of the disastrous restoration of capitalism, a new generation of youth are looking for a way out. Sizeable school strikes and other anti-war protests were held in the Czech Republic and Russian. CWI members helped organise some of these events, as well as significant protests in the Ukraine and in Kazakhstan.
However enormous alienation from the corrupt and pro-market political establishment can also find reactionary expression. The far right, neo-fascist and right populist parties in Europe are attempting to make electoral gains.
These bigots must be combated. The CWI campaigns for full employment and massive public investment in housing, health and education to cut the ground from under them. This is linked to the struggle to build mass parties of the working class.
The CWI of course builds it own forces and also puts forward its socialist ideas in elections in many countries. The Socialist Party in Ireland (CWI section) has a member in the Irish parliament, Joe Higgins, who is a leading figure in the anti-war movement, and who faced police repression for his principled stand.
CWI sections are also important tendencies in various left parties, such as the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Party in the Netherlands. We work to build these parties on a programme promoting clear socialist ideas that will resist the inevitable pressures to bend to reformist and pro-market policies.
Hollow victory of imperialism
Basking in their (predictable) Iraqi military victory, Bush and Blair are now riding high in opinion polls. Even arch right-winger John Howard, the prime minister of Australia, has seen a recovery. They think they can impose the wishes of imperialist might across the world and neo-liberal policies at home. At the same time, an attack is taking place against democratic, human and civil rights in many countries. Many of these assaults, unprecedented since WW2, are made in the name of the so-called "war against terrorism".
Although the polls show a big swing to Bush, Blair and Howard, a big minority – historic levels for war time – in both the US and Britain still oppose these warmongers. The pro-war and right wing governments in Italy and Spain have not even enjoyed support in the polls, quite the opposite, in fact. And in the case of Spain the PP government of Aznar is now facing electoral disaster.
Despite ‘success’ on the war front, the working class in Europe is increasingly moving into collision with governments. Fire fighters and transport workers have taken strike action in Britain. Teachers are outraged by the policies of New Labour and could be next. German trade unionists are gearing up for a major fight with the cuts packages of the ruling SPD/Greens. Portuguese workers have been involved in months of struggle against the right wing government’s austerity measures. Over 40,000 local government employees in Sweden are involved in industrial action. Austria trade unions have called ‘defence strikes’ against the People’s Party – Freedom Party (ÖVP-FPÖ) government’s attacks on the pension system.
Outside Europe, there is also a rising tide of workers’ resistance. Health workers have taken action in New Zealand. Australian trade unions are fighting an attempt to seriously weaken their rights by the government. In the US, important industrial action was taken by dockworkers in California against Bush’s war. In economically devastated Israel, public sector workers were set for all-out strike action until union leaders signalled hesitation.
Bush and Blair are hoping they can ride the coming storms. The White House is hoping the colonial conquest of Iraq will help salvage the US economy. Bush thinks it will mean lower oil prices and a boost to the stagnant world economy. This, and the war outcome, will smooth the way to election victory next year, or so Bush estimates. But there are no guarantees. The US is in fact facing the prospect of going into another recession. Already millions have lost their jobs in the US manufacturing and service sector. Germany is in recession and most European countries report sluggish performances. The example of Japan, which has been in a state of economic stagnation for over a decade, leading to job cuts and the development of an "underclass", is a warning to the rest of the world. If this can happen to the second largest economy, what is in store for other countries?
All this means more misery for the working class and poor, who are expected, as usual, to pay for the crisis of the system. And this is not lost on working people, especially in the US. The US is suffering its worst budget crisis in half a century. All the states, except Vermont, are legally obliged to balance their budgets. This means $122 billion worth of cuts in two years. One result will be that tens of thousands of poorer people will lose access to healthcare. At the same time, Bush gives his rich friends massive tax cuts.
The war and occupation of Iraq will prove to be a hollow victory for imperialism. It has brought to the fore all the deep contradictions of global capitalism. Millions of working people, especially the new generation, have being rapidly schooled in the true nature of the profit system, which means war, exploitation and economic crisis.
May Day 2003 will mark an important staging post in the development of the workers’ movement internationally. In many countries it will see a coming together of trade unionists, anti-war activists and anti-capitalist protesters. This will help re-establish the militant traditions of May Day and the role of the working class in changing society. With its collective power and collective consciousness, the working class is the decisive force in society and in the fight for socialism.
Many May Day marchers will conclude that the working class needs its own party and a powerful socialist international. The CWI reaffirms its aim to be play its part to achieve these goals.