May Day 2004: The struggle against imperialist occupation and capitalism

For a socialist alternative

May Day 2004 takes place at a time of increasing bloodshed and turmoil in Iraq. The conflict is at centre stage of world politics. Workers and youth across the world watch events in Iraq in horror. As well as marking international workers’ day, this year’s May Day will see protests against the imperialist occupation of Iraq.

The CWI calls for international solidarity by the working class to defend the Iraqi people from imperialist attacks and for foreign forces to immediately leave Iraq. The CWI fights 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.

As the CWI predicted in last year’s May Day statement, the Iraq war and occupation proved to be a “hollow victory for imperialism”. It is one thing for the only superpower to defeat Saddam’s demoralised forces, but quite another thing to occupy and to hold down an entire country. “Bush’s Vietnam” has brought to the fore all the deep contradictions of global capitalism. Millions of working people, especially the new generation, can see the true nature of the profit system, which means war, exploitation and economic crisis.

The world has become much more volatile and dangerous since the imperialist aggression in Afghanistan and in the Middle East. Sections of the poor and alienated respond to government’s repression with terrorism. Devastating bombings and attacks by Islamic groups have taken place from Saudi Arabia to Uzbekistan to Syria, as well as in Madrid.

The CWI opposes the capitalist system and imperialism but also individual terrorism. Furthermore, these attacks play into the hands of reactionaries. Political Islam is no solution for working people and the oppressed. It is a reactionary ideology that is anti-working class and anti-women. Only united working class struggle against capitalism and right wing regimes can show a way forward.

The US led war and occupation of Iraq was justified by a mountain of lies and propaganda that have been shown to the world to be just that. Bush’s policy of imperialist conquest has resulted in many civilian deaths, including women and children. Thousands have been killed over the last few weeks alone, in heavy fighting in Fullajah, Najaf, Baghdad, Basra and elsewhere. Hundreds of US troops – economic conscripts, in the main – are returning home in body bags. Many thousands of Iraqis are held in US-run prison camps.

In late April, Bush ended his ‘ceasefire’ in besieged Fallujah and unleashed aerial bombardments on working class areas of the city. The US wants to subjugate and humiliate the people of Fullujah, who are a symbol of resistance to the occupation. The near month-long siege of the city has led to over 700 deaths and created over 70,000 refugees. Most people in Fullujah have no water, no electricity and no working sewage system.

This mounting death-toll provokes anger across the Arab and Muslim world, and internationally. The ‘Coalition Provisional Authority’ (CPA) is enforcing an illegal and brutal occupation that denies basic democratic and human rights. It is clear to most people that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with bringing ‘liberation’ or ‘democracy’ to the Iraqi people. Millions of Iraqis are still without clean water and electricity and daily face widespread violence and crime. The CPA denies basic trade union rights. Rather, the war was all about asserting and extending US imperialist power, prestige and influence in the Middle East, and, of course, to gain control of vital oil supplies. Bush wants Iraq to be a puppet client state of the US.

In its arrogance, the Bush administration never imagined the consequences of the invasion. But now the so called ‘success’ of the occupation relies ever more on the greater use of military oppression in Iraq, as well as on greater attacks on civil liberties in the US. An indication of the desperate thinking of the White House neo-cons can be seen in a recent article in the pro-White House ‘Wall Street Journal’ (18 April 2004). The piece, entitled, ‘Rethinking Armageddon’, said that the ‘Defence Science Board’, based in the Pentagon, proposes “the case for new low yield nukes” against “rogue states and assorted terrorists”.

The occupying forces have met serious resistance since the overthrow of the brutal Saddam dictatorship. Despite desperate attempts by the White House to present the resistance as the work of “Saddam loyalists” and “al Qaeda terrorists” the truth is that both Sunni and Shia populations now oppose the occupation and many are taking up arms. This marks the beginnings of a national revolt, an uprising against the Coalition and its collaborators.

After weeks of fighting, the US has been unable to crush the resistance, despite overwhelming military superiority. Using brute force to remove opposition figures, like the Shiite cleric, Moqtada al-Sadr, in Najaf, will provoke more opposition and conflict. The US does not have the forces to put down a broad based Shia rising and to crush the Sunni resistance as well.

Occupiers have no authority

Hugely hated, the occupiers have no basis of support in Iraqi society. The puppet ‘Interim Authority’ is despised by Iraqis. The second largest armed foreign force in Iraq, after the US army, is made up of foreign mercenaries. According to US military, 40% of US trained Iraqi forces “went home” and 10% “changed sides” after the US moved against Muqtada Sadr.

In an attempt to save its skin, the Bush administration is now prepared to involve the UN in running Iraq. Some on the Left welcome the UN playing a role, and go further. They call for UN troops to be stationed in Iraq and argue that should be made up of Muslim and Arab nations, to show ‘sensitivity’.

But the UN is not some sort of neutral body acting on abstract principles of justice and human rights etc. It is an organisation of nation states dominated by the big capitalist powers. After all, it was the UN that implemented a decade of sanctions against Iraq, at the behest of the US and other imperialist powers, which led to the deaths of up to one million Iraqi people. UN rule in Iraq, no matter the make-up of its forces, is just another method of imperialist rule. UN administration in Afghanistan, the Balkans and elsewhere is no more than imperialist rule under a different cloak.

The US will continue to have a huge military presence in Iraq after the 30 June “hand-over” and will decide all the fundamental questions of ‘government’. The ‘caretaker’ government will have no real powers of sovereignty, including control over its territory or armed forces. Real power will reside with John Negroponte, the designated US pro-consul for Iraq, who helped create right wing death-squads in Central America during the 1980s.

US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, tried to explain the relationship expected between the US and the incoming Iraqi ‘government’:

“I hope they will understand that in order for this government to get up and running – to be effective – some of its sovereignty will have to be given back, if I can put it that way, or limited by them….they are going to allow us to exercise on their behalf and with their permission.”

The CWI calls for the immediate withdrawal of imperialist forces from Iraq. We support attempts to unite Sunni, Shia and all other groups in Iraq to expel imperialism. We call for cross community, and democratically controlled, workers’ militias. In the absence of strong class organisations, there is a real danger the situation in Iraq can degenerate into ethnic, religious and national civil war.

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. 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 but it is the only way forward.

The ‘alternative’ of Islamic political movements is a dead-end for the masses, as the cruel examples of Iran and Afghanistan have shown. Only a mass socialist movement against imperialism, its local ruling puppets and the profit system, can achieve genuine national and social liberation.

We reject the racist lie of Bush and Blair that the Iraqi people cannot ‘govern’ themselves. We call for elections to a genuine constituent assembly, and for a majority government representing workers and the poor. Instead of selling off the oil wealth and other resources to Bush’s rich friends, a workers’ government would take them into public ownership, under democratic workers control and planning.

The anger towards the Bush administration is compounded by the decision of the White House to openly embrace Sharon’s plans for the continuing oppression of the Palestinians. Bush, with the loyal Blair at his side, tore up forty years of Western ‘diplomatic policy’ on the Israeli/Palestine issue and backed Sharon’s ‘strategic settlement plans’ for the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This, and the Iraqi crisis, provoked retired British and US diplomats to make an unprecedented public attack on Blair and Bush’s disastrous policies.

The CWI supports the right of Palestinians to their own state. An end to oppression of Palestinians can only come through mass struggle for national and social liberation. We stand for an independent socialist Palestinian state, and a socialist Israel, as part of a regional socialist confederation. In the absence of capitalism and oppression, the issue of refugees, water rights, land etc can be resolved between working people. The CWI in Israel stands for independent class politics against the right wing policies and war-mongering of Sharon and the main parties.

“Lesser evil” option?

The Iraqi quagmire is causing deep divisions within the capitalist ruling class in the US, Britain and internationally. The spectre of the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’ has now come back to haunt the White House. A big gulf has opened up between the neo-cons in the White House, that planned and carried out the invasion of Iraq, and the millions of working people and youth in the US that opposed the war and occupation. According to polls, half of the US people now want a quick exit from Iraq.

As well as the growing political crisis in the US, the economy still remains stagnant and inflation is rising. Food and gasoline prices have jumped recently, leading to a fall in workers’ living standards.

There is a strong and growing mood amongst many US workers to do anything to get rid of Bush in the upcoming Presidential elections. This is expressed in the so-called “lesser evil” option of voting for the Democrats candidate, John Kerry. But Kerry, the richest senator in the US, supports the aims of the occupation of Iraq and welcomed Sharon’s policies. Kerry calls for more troops to be sent to Iraq. If elected to the White House, he would continue with neo-liberal policies that attack the working class and poor. Despite some tactical differences between the Republicans and Democrats, there is no fundamental difference between the two parties.

The CWI in the US (Socialist Alternative) supports the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader. Nader is a radical alternative to the two parties of big business, although he does not advocate a socialist programme. He is gaining support from many workers and youth for his criticisms of the big corporations and of the war in Iraq. The CWI calls for the Nader election campaign to be used as a platform by union and community activists, and the radical youth, to launch a campaign for a new mass party of the working class.

There is also a powerful mood to get rid of other right wing, pro-war governments in Europe, Australia and elsewhere. The neo-cons and pro-war supporters are on the back-foot. Bush, Blair and Berlusconi could follow the same route as the Aznar government in Spain. The decision by the Japanese government to despatch troops to Iraq has also polarised that country and put the government under pressure.

The strong mood of opposition to sitting governments was manifested dramatically in Spain when working people caused a political earthquake and removed the right wing PP government from power in March. This followed Prime Minister Aznar’s attempts to falsely blame ETA for the Madrid bombings. The Spanish people stood against the reactionary terrorism of political Islam but also rejected the pro-war, pro-market PP government.

In several countries, the opposition social democratic parties are the main beneficiaries of this anti-war and anti-neo-liberal mood. But these parties do not represent a solution for working people.

Under huge pressure from below, the PSOE (‘Socialist Party’) government of Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero in Spain is withdrawing troops from Iraq. The leadership of the Australian Labour Party promises to do the same, if it beats the John Howard government in elections, later this year.

But despite pulling out some troops, and opportunistic rhetoric, the social democracies are fundamentally pro-capitalist parties. Once in power, they will carry out cuts and attack workers’ rights and conditions, as their record in office at all levels demonstrates. Whatever illusions some workers and youth have in these parties, they will soon be dispelled once they take power. The SPD government in Germany, which clung onto government in the 2002 elections, partially due to its anti-war stance, is now carrying out draconian social cuts.

The CWI calls for the creation of new mass parties of the working class. The CWI is also prepared to work, in campaigns and in elections, with other genuine left organisations and workers’ organisations. The German section of the CWI (SAV) is working with other left groups in several areas, to present an alternative to the SPD government and the right wing opposition parties.

The CWI also contests elections under its own banner – and has won local government and national parliament seats in several countries, including Ireland, Britain and Sweden. CWI candidates for the EU elections in June will stand in Ireland, Sweden and Belgium – in opposition to the bosses’ EU and calling for workers’ solidarity across borders.

The CWI in Poland, the Czech Republic and other eastern European states, warn workers that the accession of ten new states to the EU will not mean an end to poverty and exploitation. In fact, the new EU countries will find themselves at the bottom of the pile, used as super-exploited cheap labour by the bosses.

CWI sections are also important tendencies in various left parties, such as the Scottish Socialist Party and the Socialist Party in the Netherlands. The CWI, for example, plays a key role in arguing for socialist policies inside the Scottish Socialist Party. We work to build these parties on a programme promoting clear socialist ideas that will resist the inevitable pressures to bend to reformist policies.

There is no guarantee that new left formations will automatically succeed – this ultimately depends on programme and ideas and taking an independent class stance. The election of Lula in Brazil, the leader of the PT (Workers’ Party), with a huge majority, gave rise to big illusions amongst sections of the working class and poor that he would make real change. Unfortunately, the Lula government has shown it is not prepared to break with capitalism. Instead, it has carried out anti-working class policies, leading to widespread disillusionment and active opposition to Lula. Teachers, health workers, and federal civil servants have taken strike action. The landless rights movement organised 80 land occupations in April. In this new atmosphere, the CWI is currently working with other left forces in Brazil to establish a new left alternative to the PT (Workers’ Party).

Lessons of Haiti

In Venezuela, the forces of reaction have repeatedly failed to topple the left populist regime of Hugo Chavez. 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, with a revolutionary socialist programme, 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 removal of President Aristide in Haiti, earlier this year, by a US-sponsored coup, is a stark warning to the working people of Venezuela and the whole of Latin and Central America. Aristide, a former radical priest, failed to deliver real change to the masses in the poorest country in the northern hemisphere. But the neo-cons in Washington could not stand Aristide’s toothless populism and his support, albeit dwindling, amongst the slum dwellers. They conspired with ex-Haitian army officers and other reactionaries and forced Aristide to leave the country. Now the Haitian masses are saddled with an even more brutal pro-US, right wing regime.

The same urgent need for a working class alternative is also clear in Africa and Asia. Members of the Democratic Socialist Movement, the CWI in Nigeria, play a key role in the opposition National Conscience Party and also campaign for the unions to take decisive action against fuel price rises and other attacks.

The return of the ANC to power in South Africa, on a lower turnout, does not reflect support by workers and poor for Thabo Mbeki’s neo-liberal programme. Rather, the ANC is still able to draw on its legacy of anti-apartheid struggle and also from the fact that there is not yet a mass socialist alternative. This alternative will be built through struggles. Large-scale campaigns have fought privatisation plans by the ANC government in South Africa. The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM-CWI) has participated in these struggles. Along with the Socialist Students’ Movement, the DSM also participates in campus actions, including a current campaign in the University of the Witwatersrand, which was provoked after management slashed student bursaries by half.

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 failure of the Megawati government in Indonesia to live up to the expectations of the masses, following the revolutionary movement that overthrew the Suharto dictatorship in the late 1990s, is expressed in the poor election results her party is receiving in elections. In the absence of a mass socialist opposition, this vast archipelago can descend into worse ethnic, religious and national conflict.

The United Socialist Party (USP – CWI) in Sri Lanka recently made important gains in national elections. Uniquely on the Left, the USP stood in both Sinhalese and Tamil areas of the country. The CWI in India, Kashmir and Pakistan, offer working class unity and socialism in contrast to the barbarism of capitalism, and the communalism and national oppression the system fosters.

‘Third World’ conditions

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’.

Since the early 1980s, the numbers of people living on $1 a day has doubled, from 164 million to 314 million. More than half a billion Africans survive on less than two dollars a day.

Joblessness and underemployment are endemic under capitalism. According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), unemployment worldwide reached a record 185.9 million last year, “despite higher global growth”. Young people face a joblessness rate of 14.4%. The ILO estimates that the number of “working poor” in the world stands at 550 million.

According to the World Health Organisation, life expectancy is falling and child mortality is rising in the world’s poorest countries as the global gap in healthcare widens. Around the world, 60 million people are infected with HIV/AIDS, which kills thousands each day, mainly in Africa.

Worldwide, 840 million people are chronically undernourished. At least 96 countries are nowhere near reaching the ‘millennium goals’ of universal education by 2015. In fact, 104 million children receive no formal education at all.

At the same time, the Bush administration spent an astronomical $20 billion on waging its colonial war against the Iraqi people and many billions more on its occupation. The Administration has also handed out fat tax breaks to the super-rich US elite.

The masses of the neo-colonial world are not helplessly accepting the status quo. Deteriorating economic and social conditions, combined with the corruption and oppression of the ruling elites, have also resulted in search for an alternative.

In the Western countries, socialists are also building an alternative to the right wing parties. The CWI in Germany (SAV) helped to initiate the first protests and demonstrations against the social cuts programme of the Schroeder government. Around 100,000 people marched in Berlin last November. This started a movement that saw up to half a million marched against the ‘reforms’ in several German cities on 3 April. The SAV is helping to organise important rank and file networks in key unions, like ‘ver.di’. Although at an early stage, these activists’ organisations represent the beginnings of a fight by union members to reclaim the unions from the right wing bureaucrats.

The 1990s saw the leaders of the trade unions wing to the right. Union membership fell and there were fewer shop floor activists. Many low paid, part time workers are left unorganised. In several countries, the CWI is involved in helping to organise these, mainly young, workers. The ‘Unite!’ anti-low pay campaign in Australia has already received wide media attention and forced many of Melbourne’s downtown shop bosses onto the defensive.

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 in the former Soviet Union. Russians were promised “US-style capitalism” ten years ago and instead found living conditions falling below Soviet Union levels. The rise in oil prices is the main reason the economy stays afloat. In the Ukraine, which has the second largest population in the region, a third of the population officially lives in poverty.

Russian President Putin returned to power by forcing any real opposition out of the election race. He is increasing his powers and the imperialist ambitions of Russian state. At the same time, the bloody war in Chechnya continues.

Armed conflict is also looming in Georgia, between the central government of Mikhail Saakashvili and the province of Ajara. Following the ‘Rose Revolution’, last November, which overthrew the corrupt regime of Edward Shevardnadze, the US-backed Saskashvili regime has failed to meet the needs of the people of Georgia. The economy is weak and people live in poverty. In these conditions, conflicts between a weak central power and secessionist regions, including Abkhazia and South Ossetia, are more likely. But it is the working class that will be the main losers from a descent into civil war.

That has been clearly demonstrated in the former Yugoslavia, where hundreds of thousand died in a decade of wars. But UN/NATO rule has not provided a solution. Their rule is undemocratic and in the service of the big powers and big business. The ethnic and national fault-lines remain. Recent fighting broke out in Kosovo/Kosova, between ethnic Albanians and Serbs, and thousands of Serbs were ‘ethnically cleansed’. The communities also clashed with UN/NATO troops.

CWI members in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe fight for independent class politics and for the building of workers’ organisations to unite across ethnic and national communities.

Far right threat

The far right, neo-fascist and right populist parties in Europe, such as the BNP in Britain and the Vlaams Blok in Belgium, are attempting to make electoral gains in a situation of increased alienation from the corrupt and pro-market political establishment. They are helped by the anti-immigrant and anti-asylum-seeker demagogy and policies of governments and politicians.

Earlier this year, the Chirac government in France introduced a ban on young Muslim women wearing the hijab or headscarf in schools. They tried to present this as a ‘progressive’ act, and, disgracefully, some on the left supported the coercive measure. The CWI in France opposed the ban, and pointed out that it plays into the

hands of racists. It also strengthens the position of the reactionary leaders of the Muslim community and divides communities even further.

It is wrong to think that a law banning female students’ rights in schools will ‘liberate’ these women. Only a united struggle of the working class, across all religious, race and sexual barriers, can win genuine rights for women.

However, the recent local and regional elections in France, which saw Chirac’s government lose heavily to the PS (‘Socialist Party’) opposition, shows that Chirac was not able to exploit the race card as he had hoped.

The Fianna Fail/Progressive Democrats government in Ireland intends to hold a referendum that would prevent the children of immigrants born in Ireland automatically becoming Irish citizens. The Dutch coalition government of Prime Minister Balkenende wants to force over 20,000 refugees to return to war torn and impoverished countries. In both cases, these right wing governments are attempting to deflect attention away from deep social problems and cutbacks, which have worsened as the economic boom of the two countries has come to an end.

The CWI in the Netherlands, ‘Offensief’, has participated in the mass protests against the cruel expulsions of refugees. Socialist Party TD (member of parliament), Joe Higgins, exposes the Irish government’s playing the race card and argues that Fianna Fail are trying to scapegoat immigrants just as they tried to demonise the anti-bin charges campaigners in Dublin last year. The Socialist Party played a crucial role in the anti-bin charges mass community struggle, which saw Joe and other party representatives and members, as well as other activists, imprisoned for fighting the unfair tax.

The CWI campaigns for full employment and massive public investment in housing, health and education to cut the ground from under the feet of the racists, fascists and populist right. This is linked to the struggle to build new mass parties of the working class.

30th Anniversary of CWI

As well as celebrating May Day, this year also marks the 30th anniversary of the founding conference of the CWI. The year 1974 was still under the influence of the mighty revolutionary events of France 1968, when the students and 10 million workers held a general strike. The early 1970s saw huge movements of youth and ferment in the unions and workers’ parties, as well the ongoing campaign against the Vietnam War. Soon after the CWI founding conference the revolution in Portugal broke out and overthrew the military regime.

In this period, the CWI set itself the task of helping to construct a new international of the working class. The other left organisations had failed to provide programme or perspectives for the new world situation that unfolded at that time. In contrast, the CWI emphasised the need to base itself on the working class and to relate socialist ideas to working people and youth. With its collective power and collective consciousness, the working class is the most decisive force on the planet.

Thirty years later, the CWI has built an important presence in Europe and has sections and supporters on every continent, from Australia to the Americas. The second largest CWI section is now in Africa, in Nigeria, where working people face horrendous levels of poverty, corruption, and ethnic and religious divisions.

The CWI has initiated, led and participated in many campaigns and struggles. These include the heroic struggle of the Liverpool 47 councillors in the 1980s and the successful struggle to end the poll tax in Britain, which helped to topple Thatcher. The CWI has built an important base in the workplace and in working class communities. In Ireland (North and South), Scotland, England and Wales, and other countries, the CWI holds positions on the national executives of unions. Many other examples could be given of the struggles and successes of the CWI over the last three decades. What is clear is that the record and current activities of the CWI marks an important step on the road towards a new mass workers’ international.

May Day 2004 will see a coming together of trade unionists, anti-war activists and anti-capitalist protesters. However, sections of the media have announced the death of anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation. This will prove to be wrong. The earlier phases of anti-globalisation protests have been largely fused into the mighty anti-war movement, which saw millions take to the streets across the world. As long as capitalism and imperialism exists, so will poverty and exploitation and the resistance of the masses.

Workers and youth, in particular, will protest against the injustices of the system. Large protests will continue to take place, over Iraq, but also on many other issues, including ‘Third World’ poverty, unfair trade, the arms trade and environmental issues. Youth are incensed by global capitalism’s destruction of the environment. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a quarter of the world’s land animals and plants face extinction over the next 50 years if nothing is done to curb global warming – which is mainly caused by big industry.

Increasingly, workers and youth across the world will conclude they need a party of their own to stop this unprecedented environmental destruction, to resist imperialism and war, and to change society. Through global struggle, they will see the need for a powerful socialist international. On its thirtieth anniversary, the CWI reaffirms to play its part to achieve these goals.

No to imperialism and capitalism – troops out of Iraq and the Middle East!

Join the CWI in the struggle for a new mass workers’ international!

Fight for world socialism!

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April 2004