Elections in 18th century England were very jolly affairs. Instead of long and tedious speeches about wars and taxes and the like, politicians invited voters to the tavern to get them drunk on election day and buy their votes for what were known as "rotten boroughs" - small rural places that nobody had ever heard of and where few people lived, yet were entitled to vote and send representatives to His Majesty's Parliament.
In the last few weeks the UN Security Council bore a close resemblance to an old English rotten borough on election day. Only here billions of dollars were at stake, not a few jugs of cheap gin. There were chaotic scenes in the UN as people fought to buy votes. Until yesterday British and American diplomats at the UN were scrambling to round up the required Security Council votes.
However, this operation was seen very differently in Downing Street and the White House. For Blair it was practically a matter of life and death. For Bush it was an irritating but possibly necessary diplomatic sideshow. If they could get a resolution through the Council, so much the better, but on no account was military action to be compromised by all this. The British, on the other hand, were desperate to find a compromise formula to secure a Security Council majority, which, the government believed would quieten the worst of the criticism at home.
This is the essence of the problem. There is a growing divergence in public opinion in Britain and the USA. In Britain, only 19 per cent of the public would back British participation in an attack on Iraq without a new UN resolution. In the US, however, 55 per cent would support an American invasion even in defiance of a vote at the Security Council, according to a recent New York Times/CBS News poll. This was the source of the growing tension between London and Washington and an increasingly evident difference on tactics.
As of yesterday, America and Britain are supported in the council only by Spain and Bulgaria, two of the ten rotating members. Of the other non-permanent members, Germany and Syria have sided with the French. Pakistan has sent conflicting messages about how it would vote. That leaves Chile, Mexico, Angola, Cameroon and Guinea as potential "swing voters". However, even if the necessary nine votes can be found for a new resolution, any one of the five permanent members (America, Britain, China, France and Russia) could use its veto to block it—and France and Russia have explicitly said they are prepared to do so.
Mr Blair personally telephoned leaders of the "swing six" states to ask their support. For his part, President Bush has also spent a lot of money on telephone calls to Mexico and Chile. President Fox used to be close to Bush, but was outraged by his refusal to grant an amnesty for Mexican immigrants in the USA. There might therefore have been room for horse-trading. But it was never that simple. Public opinion in Mexico and Chile is solidly against the war. And why should they vote for a resolution and earn all the odium, when the French have already said that they will veto it?
The Economist pointed out the dilemma faced by these "floating voters": "None of them relish the idea of getting into the bad books of America—the world's strongest military power, and the largest shareholder in multilateral lenders like the IMF and World Bank. After Yemen failed to support a resolution authorising the 1991 Gulf war, America cut off $24m a year of aid. Many of the council's rotating members are just as reluctant to alienate France, the leader of the anti-war coalition, or fear the domestic political consequences of supporting a war that so many of their voters oppose."
There were also problems with the Africans. The president of Guinea, having been courted by Washington and France, and seemed to be inclining towards the former, suddenly denied that his country's vote was in the bag. This implied that the African countries, after all the telephone calls and arm-twisting, were still hesitating between France and the USA. Bush must have been furious. This probably made up minds in Washington that the Second Resolution move that Blair had prodded them reluctantly into accepting, was a waste of time.
In the end, there were problems all round. Some countries wanted the weapons inspectors to have a month or more to continue their work, but American officials immediately dismissed the idea of allowing Iraq to have even ten more days beyond the March 17th deadline that a British amendment to the new resolution had originally proposed.
By Wednesday the negotiations about the Resolution were increasingly gloomy. Paradoxically, the Americans were sounding confident of getting a working majority for a resolution. This "cheerful optimism" has a simple explanation. The American diplomats were only going through the motions of this farce in order to please "their closest allies" in London. Basically, they could not have cared less about the outcome. The British were sounding more pessimistic. But then, they actually took the business seriously.
'I made them an offer they couldn't accept'
Tony Blair is acting more and more like a man who has lost all touch with reality. In his desperation to get the resolution through the Security Council, Blair attempted to amend it to make it more palatable to the undecided states. The resulting "six points" bore all the hallmarks of a hastily worded improvisation that even its authors do not take seriously, let alone anyone else. The conditions were carefully worded so as not to be accepted, and in the end the document says that if all are accepted, the United Kingdom will begin to think that Saddam Hussein is collaborating. Not a word about the US of A, or even Spain. Yet it is America that decides all.
This was all for domestic consumption. The Prime Minister told the Commons that Britain was working "flat out" for a second resolution which would uphold UN authority. In passing, he hopes it will also do something for his own authority, which is falling by the minute. But if the UN stubbornly refuses to uphold its own authority - what then? Blair set out new conditions, which Saddam Hussein must meet if he is to avoid war. But Bush and Blair have been telling Saddam for a long time what he must do, without achieving any noticeable breakthrough.
Blair told Prime Minister's questions that the second resolution would set out "a very clear set of tests for Iraq to meet in order to demonstrate that it is in full compliance." Under the new conditions, Saddam must declare (on television and in Arabic) that he has hidden and will now give up weapons of mass destruction. He must allow 30 scientists and their families to fly to Cyprus for discussions with UN weapons inspectors. He must "forthwith" (not later, but forthwith!) destroy 10,000 litres of anthrax and other chemical and biological materials the Iraqis are believed still to be holding. He must pledge in Arab on Iraqi TV that he will disarm. Iraq must account for an allegedly undeclared unmanned aerial drone discovered by the inspectors. It must destroy all (not just some, but all) its al-Samoud 2 missiles and finally it must explain its mobile chemical units.
The very insistent tone of the statement masks its inner impotence. Why "must" Iraq do any of these things? Generally speaking a sovereign state does not have to do anything against its will. According to the generally accepted criteria, Iraq is a sovereign state. It says it does not possess the weapons it is supposed to hold. So how can it destroy them? And the only way it can be made to do things it does not want to do is by force - that means military force. In this sense Buffalo Bush has a strong point. But at this point, where according to his admittedly primitive logic, the problem should be solved, it is only just beginning.
The problem is that according to the existing norms (such as they are) one cannot simply attack a sovereign state unless in self-defence or if it represents a real and present danger to you. At the present time poor battered, hungry, bleeding Iraq represents a threat to nobody. It has attacked neither the United States nor Britain. Thus, the projected action of the USA and Britain is merely an act of barefaced, unprovoked imperialist aggression.
The bankruptcy of Blair's amendment, and its deliberately provocative content, was clear even to such an old Cold War hawk as Zbigniew Brzezhinski. He blamed both the Bush administration and Tony Blair for "squandering" America's support in the world. As for the British amendment, he dismissed it as "frivolous". A child of six could see that it was drafted in such a way that the Iraqis could never accept it. As Brzezhinski said on BBC 2 Newsnight, the first demand - that Saddam Hussein must appear on Iraqi television and say in plain Arabic that he has weapons of mass destruction and is going to destroy them was "designed to humiliate" and provoke a rejection.
What is the meaning of this demand? To compel Saddam Hussein to admit to possessing weapons of mass destruction, which he denies, which the UN inspectors have not found, and which neither the USA nor Britain have ever proven. This is a self-evident trap and a provocation. Even if he were to agree to this, what would the response of America be? Only that it proves he was lying all the time, that he cannot be trusted, that one cannot deal with such a man, and that the regime must be changed. In short - "all roads lead to Rome".
At this time of writing, the six undecided nations had still not signed up to any form of words despite two key British concessions: an extension beyond 17 March of the deadline for Iraq to comply, and a check list of disarmament demands. The prospect of a second Security Council resolution giving the green light for military action now seems ruled out.
'É finita la commedia'
In London the mood was one of desperation, verging on despair. In Washington, on the contrary, the mood was one of frustration and growing anger at the delay. Bush considers every delay as an intolerable imposition. He has already ruled out the 45-day extension in the proposed 17 March deadline that had been pushed by undecided members of the Council. The White House said even a month's extension was a "non-starter". In fact, Bush has made his mind up long ago.
The mighty US military machine is rolling. It will soon be ready for action. When that moment arrives (it has been slightly delayed by the opposition of Turkey to the deployment of US troops, but that can change) no further resistance will be tolerated. American military commanders, anxious to avoid having to fight as spring temperatures rise in the Iraqi desert, say they are now ready to invade. Mr Bush maintains that he does not need a second resolution giving him the authority to launch an attack because he already has that mandate under Resolution 1441, passed unanimously by the Security Council last November.
In the end Tony Blair was left clinging to the Second Resolution, like a drowning man clutching at a straw. Mr Bush is in a hurry. But Mr Blair is in a fix. As a sign of growing desperation, Blair even went to Germany, where Schroeder, who seems to have a macabre sense of humour, took him to see an exhibition of paintings of the bombing of Dresden (by the British). It is to be hoped that the British prime minister was grateful for a most instructive lesson in art and history, because that is all he got out of his visit. Germany will vote against a second resolution. That is, they will vote against if the matter is ever put to the vote.
The man who decides is not Blair, however, but the Lone Ranger in the White House. One imagines the phone conversation between them: "Tony, I want this deal done and dusted by the weekend, OK. I mean like this weekend, not the next one. That is in 48 hours.
"Of course there are still a few loose ends to be tied up. The Turks are being really difficult and refusing to give us access to their territory for our legitimate ends. But we have threatened to cut off their cash, so they may yet see the light. If not, it's just too bad.
"So their economy will be ruined, so what? Worse things happen every day. And just wait to see what will happen when we cut off the funds to the Africans. They don't have enough to eat as it is. Well, serves them right for tangling with the world's only superpower."
Frustrated by the lack of fighting spirit in London, Bush is looking for a more pliable stooge in Madrid. Ana Palacio the Spanish foreign minister, a lady of limited intellectual powers and a very big mouth, publicly suggested that the war could begin before the vote was taken in the Security Council. Since Ms Palacio is not one of the smartest of a particularly obtuse right wing government, her words must have been written down for her by someone - and that someone was sitting in Washington.
The message from Washington is loud and clear. Diplomacy has been exhausted. The time for fun and games is over. The Americans crack the whip and their obedient servants jump to attention. All of a sudden the whole tone of the discussion has changed. And in place of smiles and embraces it was time to turn up the pressure on America's "closest ally."
The cruellest cut of all
"Very well. If we have to go, let's go", the parrot said to the cat who was dragging him downstairs by the tail.
These are the words that instantly spring to mind when we observe the conduct of the British prime minister in the last 24 hours. For the first time the signs of desperation is now showing. That angelic face, once permanently adorned with a self-satisfied smile, is now criss-crossed by ugly stress lines. And Tony has good reason to be worried. For the USA's most faithful ally, and most obedient poodle, has recently suffered a most painful kick in the teeth. The US Defence Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld has announced to the world that the "US may have to launch war without Britain".
When asked at a press conference whether the US would go to war without Britain or with Britain playing a smaller part than planned, the US Defence Secretary replied in typical Rumsfeld-speak: "What will ultimately be decided is unclear as to their [Britain's] role in the event that a decision is made to use force." Speaking at the Pentagon, he added: "Until we know what the resolution is, we won't know what their role will be and the extent they'll be able to participate."
After Britain had backed Bush to the hilt, unquestioningly from the beginning. It now has more than 25,000 troops in the Gulf - a not insignificant contribution to the effort of the "coalition of the willing", and more than a quarter of Her Majesty's total armed forces. True, the US forces of more than 200,000 are ten times as big. But let us be fair: Britain has gone to a lot of trouble and expense raising this force, and has not charged our American friends a single cent. By contrast Washington's fair-weather friends on the Security Council have done nothing but moan and complain from the first day and are now putting their hands out for large sums of hard cash in exchange for their votes.
What a cruel rebuff! It is the same old story. Britain's love affair with America (or rather with whoever is running it) goes unrequited. All our advances are cruelly rejected, all our gifts go unnoticed and unthanked. All our fan letters are unopened. And the most damnable thing about it all is that at bottom Bush and Rumsfeld care far more about the opinions of France, Germany and Russia than they do about poor old Britain. After all, our efforts can be safely taken for granted, whereas they must be chased after, cajoled, bribed and courted, whereas Britain, good old Britain, can always be relied upon to deliver, no matter what.
Britain's slavish dependence
Behind the present row is the gulf that is opening between Europe and the USA and the special position of Britain between the two. Like the ignorant parvenue Thatcher before him, Blair believes that there is a "special relationship" between Britain and America, when all that this relationship expresses is the collapse of Britain as an independent power in the world and its complete dependence on the USA.
British capitalism has been in a stage of slow ignominious decline for over a century. It lost its status as the "workshop of the world" after the First World War. Its manufacturing base has been drastically reduced, as has its share in world trade. Despite all its airs and graces in Europe, it is the shabby poor relation of France and Germany in particular. In the end the latter are the decisive powers in the EU. Britain is not. And in the long-term calculations of Washington, Paris and Berlin are ultimately more important than London.
However, it is one thing to despise the "Brits", it is another to let them know they are despised. Rumsfeld's comments were a typical example of the mixture of great power arrogance, crudity and stupidity that are the hallmarks of the foreign policy of the Bush administration. Yet again they have trodden on the toes of their allies with hobnailed army-issue boots.
British officials, privately horrified, publicly sought to play down the significance of Mr Rumsfeld's remarks, professing optimism that Britain and the US were "on track to obtain the nine Security Council votes" needed to secure at least a "moral majority", despite veto threats by France and Russia. Blair's spokesman said Britain's focus remained on a second UN resolution, and stressed "there has been total co-operation in military planning between ourselves and the Americans". The fact that nobody believed this does not take away the merit of those who had the courage (or barefaced cynicism) to say it.
Rumsfeld's comments led to frantic calls to Washington from the government of Tony Blair, which faces a growing political crisis over Britain's involvement in any campaign waged against Iraq without UN backing. Mr Rumsfeld later issued a statement backing away from any suggestion that the British troops in the Gulf region might not fight alongside the American army.
But in the government offices in Whitehall there was panic. Such was the consternation caused by the remarks, that Mr Rumsfeld's office later issued a written statement of clarification saying his main point had been that obtaining a second resolution "is important to the United Kingdom" and that both countries were working to achieve it. […] In the event that a decision to use force is made, we have every reason to believe there will be a significant military contribution from the United Kingdom," his statement said.
However, Sir Christopher Meyer, the outgoing British Ambassador to Washington, admitted in so many words what nobody really doubts - namely, that the US could go ahead without the UK. "I am pretty clear that they would go to war in whatever circumstance," he told Channel 4 News.
It is obvious that Rumsfeld's comments were not accidental. By issuing this threat, Bush (that is, his advisers) showed a profound understanding of human psychology. Like all right wing reformists Tony Blair has a completely servile attitude towards big business, the wealthy and powerful, and this servility is multiplied a hundred times over when it is a question of war, which affects the fundamental interests of the ruling class. Blair displays a particularly servile and sycophantic attitude to the biggest imperialist power, the USA. This sycophancy reflects on the one side the subordinate position of British imperialism on the world stage and on the other the typical subservience of the right wing Labour leaders in the presence of power. They can no more avoid it than a can a magnetic needle avoid pointing north.
These Labour right-wingers really love to act the part of war leaders and world statesmen. It is a harmless pastime (except for those in the front line) and so good for their image! Therefore the Rumsfeld comments were particularly damaging. They could not have come at a worse time for Blair, who had just convened for the first time an embryonic "war cabinet" of ministers and military personnel. This was supposed to have a galvanising effect on British public opinion. The TV screens showed judges, generals and senior civil servants scurrying in and out of the cabinet offices - just like in a real war.
Then, right in the middle of all this posing, the Americans dropped a political bombshell no less potent than the MOAB bomb they recently tested. The British army - that fine body of fighting men and women - would henceforth be required only for distributing tea and biscuits to a grateful Iraqi population and directing the traffic in Baghdad - after it has been "liberated" - by the US army. It was a very public humiliation.
This is how the present occupant of the White House understands diplomacy. Through the agency of his friend Donald, George W Bush merely got hold of Tony Blair by a delicate part of his anatomy - and squeezed.
Crisis in the Labour Party
This was the first time America suggested that Britain might have to reduce its role in a war against Iraq - or not take part at all - because of Tony Blair's political difficulties. When asked for the reason, Rumsfeld said Britain's situation was "distinctive", in that it actually had an elected parliament and that (horror of horrors) this parliament was demanding to hold the prime minister to account over his bellicose plans.
Yes, that is really a big problem, when the electorate starts to ask awkward questions about the conduct of governments and their representatives in parliament actually start listening to them. That does not at all fit in with the conception of democracy accepted by Bush and Rumsfeld ("governments should lead, the public should shut up and follow").
Rumsfeld is clearly concerned by the opposition among the British public and Labour MPs to an invasion of Iraq. As the weeks pass, all the attempts of Blair and co to change their minds has only led to a further hardening of public opinion against the war.
This was the reason why Blair was now desperate to obtain a second United Nations resolution. The pressure on Blair was stepped up when 40 Labour MPs called publicly for him to step down. This is the first time that Blair's leadership has been openly called into question. It is a sign of a tremendous growth of opposition inside the Labour and trade union movement in Britain. Even before Rumsfeld's speech Blair was sinking deep in a political morass. Then his "good friends" in Washington pushed him a good few more inches into it. But then, what else are good friends for?
The purpose of this American threat was to put pressure on Blair and remind him who is the boss. The message from the White House was: never mind British public opinion, never mind the Labour Party, forget the Second Resolution. Let's get going! The very next day Blair said in so many words that he is prepared to go to war together with the USA without a UN resolution.
This will deepen the splits that are already opening up in the Labour Party. But Blair still has some cards to play. The Party machine can bully, threaten and cajole. The pressure on Labour MPs is being intensified. Appeals are being made to "support our boys" who have been sent to the Gulf as cannon fodder for Bush. Therefore it is possible that some discipline may temporarily be restored. Clare Short, the Minister for Overseas Development, has accused Blair of recklessness and of destroying the Labour Party. Possibly by the time this article has appeared she will no longer be a member of the Cabinet and Mr Blair will be able to pursue his reckless course (the word is well chosen) to his heart's content.
No matter what Blair does behind the closed doors of Cabinet meetings and in the mock Gothic corridors of Westminster, the mood of the British public is firmly set against the war. According to the polls 75 percent of people in Britain will not back a war without a UN resolution. Since there will be no such resolution, the gulf between the Blair clique and the public will soon turn into an abyss.
If the war is brief, as Bush and Blair fervently hope, the crisis may blow over for a while, but none of this is clear. What is certain is that the opposition to this war is far more extensive and deeply felt than at any other time in the past. Even at the time of the Vietnam the opposition took some years before it developed into a mass movement. At the beginning there was no visible opposition. But now the war is acting as a powerful catalyst for the accumulated anger and frustration of millions of people - for discontent
For a temporary period Blair may be able put the lid on the seething cauldron in the Labour Party, but only for a temporary period. Whatever happens, the wounds in the Labour Party are deep and lasting. Tomorrow new crises and splits will open up. The way will be prepared for the emergence of a mass left wing in the Labour Party and the unions. It is the beginning of the end for New Labour.
The limits of American power
Those who argue that this is "all about oil" are mistaken. If that were the case, the USA could get control of Iraq's oil without resorting to war. There are far more economical means of achieving that particular aim. Certainly, oil enters into the equation, as do many other factors, including Bush's personal ambition, his desire for revenge, and so on. But these are not the fundamental explanation of why America is determined to invade Iraq.
From the very first it is clear that all this is all about American power. The changed relationship of forces on a world scale since the fall of the Soviet Union has concentrated colossal power in the hands of the USA. They have enormous power but have not learned to use it in moderation. This can lead them to overreach themselves. North Korea is openly defying them, and they do nothing. Like a school bully they only weaker kids. But sooner or later even the biggest bully gets a bloody nose.
Bush has requested a staggering 380 billion budget for arms to further increase the lead that the USA enjoys over all its rivals. To underline the point, the Pentagon has just tested a new weapon of mass destruction - to add to its huge collection of such weapons. It is called the MOAB - the Massive Ordinance Air Blast - the biggest conventional bomb the USA has ever produced. The 21,000lb bomb, which is guided to its target by satellite signals, creates a mushroom cloud visible for miles, just like a nuclear device. This nice little toy could be used in an attack on Iraq. Now that is a far weightier argument than all the legal niceties of the lawyers and all the fussing and fiddling in the Security Council.
This was part of their programme of building weapons of mass destruction, which, in the hands of the USA, as everyone knows, are dedicated exclusively to furthering the cause of peace, harmony and human brotherhood. The US generals - those well known humanitarians and lovers of peace - are now rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of testing some of these nice little toys in a real "war theatre", as they call it.
War and revolution
Whatever happens now, war may be only days away. But the result of the war will not be what Bush and Blair are expecting. A war in Iraq will have serious international consequences. It will produce numerous civilian casualties and destabilise the Middle East. Its reverberations will be felt all over the world, opening up a new page of unparalleled instability at all levels - political, military, diplomatic, economic and financial. The shock waves can last for some time before some new and unstable equilibrium can be restored. This will create new threats and dangers for capitalism and imperialism.
The problem with imperial power is that it constantly tends to overreach itself. This is very clear in the case of America today. The insolence of the US imperialists is staggering. They now say they will refuse to pay for post-war reconstruction in Iraq after they have devastated it, leaving it to "donor nations". That is to say, the USA has plenty of money for blowing people up, but none at all for feeding, housing or curing them of their wounds. This is a faithful expression of imperialist humanitarianism.
Here the old saying holds true: "pride comes before a fall". The Bush clique that runs the most powerful nation on earth is puffed up with its own importance. They are essentially small men and women, people of limited intellect and understanding who think it is enough to wave a fist in someone's face to solve all problems. If they resist, just smash them. However, it is not that easy.
A mailed fist can be useful in some circumstances but it will not help you escape from a minefield. For that a minimum of tact and care is necessary. An elephant that blunders into a minefield will be destroyed by its very bulk. And for the USA the present world resembles a very large and unstable minefield. The appalling mess that global capitalism has caused everywhere cannot be cured by bombs and invasions: these will only give rise to further chaos.
A global instability has gripped the world and taken possession of it. All that seemed stable has dissolved. All that seemed safe has become unsafe. Above all the psychology of millions of people has begun to change in a dramatic fashion. In reality the discontent was already present, like the colossal but invisible forces that accumulate beneath the earth's surface before an earthquake. When these forces reach a critical point, any small disturbance can set them in motion with catastrophic results. The coming war will unleash forces all over the world that are presently undreamed of.
New fault lines are opening up everywhere. The first effect of Bush's policy has been to fracture the West utterly. The United Nations Security Council, NATO, the EU and America and Europe are all deeply divided. The tensions between Europe and America are particularly serious. The European bourgeois no longer trust the Americans to represent their interests. The Americans curse the French, but the Chirac is only saying what the others are thinking. The truth is that they have been saying these things for some time, but only in private. Now the antagonisms between Europe and America are out in the open. They will not easily be disposed of.
To the threat of war is added the prospect of a new downturn of the world economy. Those who only yesterday spoke of a revival of the world economy have been confounded. In the City of London, investors faced further heavy losses after the FTSE 100 Index slumped 100 points. Shares registered heavy losses. 40 billion pounds were wiped off share prices in London. Battered insurance and banking stocks were again under pressure, while the big oil companies Shell and BP also pulled the market lower. At the end of the day the FTSE 100 was at its lowest level for eight years. To put it in context, a few years ago the FTSE stood at a record level of more than 7,000. Now it is less than half that and the experts are gloomily predicting a fall to 3,000 or less in the near future.
If the stock market is considered as something like a thermometer that roughly indicates the health of the capitalist economy, or at least the state of mind of the investing fraternity, then it is indicating a high fever. This phenomenon is not confined to the London exchange. Similar results were registered in Paris, Frankfurt and other European exchanges. Nor can this be ascribed purely to nervousness at the prospect of war. Here too the war issue (and the rising price of oil) is only a catalyst that expresses an underlying and far more serious problem. The world economy is suffering from overproduction ("overcapacity"), and a huge backlog of debts and other imbalances left over from the last period that have yet to be cleared. Company profit figures indicate that the much-heralded recovery is non-existent, just as we predicted. Further rises in unemployment, factory closures and bankruptcies are on the order of the day.
Over the Atlantic, the latest figures from the USA show a sharp and unexpected rise in unemployment figures. This is just the beginning. War in Iraq, coming after the "strike" in Venezuela, and a huge increase in the consumption of oil and diesel by the US military in preparation for war, is pushing up world oil prices. They will inevitably rise still further in the coming months, exercising a depressing effect on profit margins that were already depressed because of overproduction and the sluggish state of world markets.
The promises of Saudi Arabia to pump more oil will not be enough to offset the global shortage. Kuwaiti oil production is already down as a result of the war preparations. As in 1973-4, a steep rise in the price of oil can be the "accident" that sends the world economy into a severe recession. Thus, one crisis feeds upon another, preparing the way for a massive outburst of the class struggle in one country after another, in one continent after another.
Upturn in the class struggle
The present situation has no parallel in history. There are so many imponderables that it is hard to make an exact prediction of how events will unfold. But one thing is clear: the crisis of capitalism is a deep and global crisis that is enveloping every country. This must produce sharp and sudden changes in the situation and in the consciousness of the working class. And this process has already begun.
First we had the mass anti-globalisation demonstrations, which were symptomatic of a change of mood among the youth, particularly the middle class youth and the students. But as often happens in history, the wind blows through the tops of the trees first. A ferment among the students and the middle class is an anticipation of a movement of the working class. This has begun with the mass general strikes that swept Europe last year. This marked the decisive entry of the working class onto the scene.
The movement of the proletariat that all the miserable cynics, sceptics and renegades had written off is now a fact. In its depth and breadth the movement is bigger than anything we have witnessed since the stormy decades of the 1970s. Moreover, it is taking on an increasingly radical and political character. The present pre-war situation has affected the class in an unprecedented manner. Even before the first shot has been fired there are clear indications of protest movements on the factory floor in one country after another.
Such is the opposition to the war amongst ordinary workers that the European Trade Union Confederation, not normally known for its militancy, has called for a Europe wide work stoppage for 15 minutes at noon on Friday 14. Despite its limited scope, this action, called under the slogan of “Stop Europe to stop the war”, is extremely significant and it clearly shows that the ETUC is under enormous pressure from below. In fact Spanish trade union leaders have even threatened to call a general strike against the war.
As we already reported there have been actions of British train drivers who refused to move war material in Scotland, and earlier this week there was a one-hour strike of Italian port workers who also refused to handle a shipment of war material. In many European countries the unions are discussing or have already agreed to take strike action when the war starts. In Britain this is the case with rail unions and the Communication Workers Union. Even in the United States the moderate leadership of the AFL-CIO, which has supported every single imperialist war the United States have been involved in, has voiced criticism (though very mild) of Bush’s war plans.
This is really an extraordinary situation. In the past Marxists have always argued that the slogan of a general strike against war was not appropriate because the eve of a war, when general mobilization begins and society is gripped by patriotic moods is the least favourable moment for such a slogan. That was certainly true in 1914 and 1939 and at the start of the Vietnam War. Such a slogan would have been simply absurdly ultra-left.
But the situation now is entirely different. The mood of the overwhelming majority in Europe is against the war. The above examples show that layers of the working class are ready to respond to a bold lead where it is given. The Marxists in the unions and in the workplaces must be in the first line of the class struggle, conducting systematic agitation against the war and linking it to class demands and the perspective of socialism.
In the given situation the question of strike action can and must be placed on the agenda. Where the unions give even half a lead, we must support it actively and strive to generalise the movement as much as possible. The slogan of action committees must be put to the fore as a means of developing and extending the strike movement. It is, of course, not a question of advancing adventurist demands that fly over the heads of the workers, and certainly not of advocating action by a minority in defiance of the wishes of the majority of workers. We must strive to win over the majority by patient discussion, based on facts, figures and arguments.
The tasks of Marxists in the unions is twofold: to achieve the widest possible action against the war and through collective action and discussion to raise the level of the class, beginning with the active advanced guard in the unions and shop stewards committees. Organise mass meetings to discuss our attitude to the war during working hours. Pass resolutions that do not only condemn the war but call for decisive action. Let our slogan be that of Lenin: Patiently explain.
For a militant anti-war policy!
The movement in the direction of war poses the need for specific demands, such as the blacking of the movement of all goods destined to the war. Railway workers! Dockers! Lorry drivers! Do not touch material destined for the war!
Resolutions to this effect should be moved immediately in every trade union branch and shop stewards committee. Any attempt to discipline workers for anti-war actions must be met with the full force of the movement. Let us remember the old slogan of the pioneers of Labour: An injury to one is an injury to all.
This war, like any other war, means death and destruction for the many and huge profits for the few. We demand the confiscation of the war profits of the arms manufacturers for the benefit of the community, the old, the sick, the children, the homeless and the unemployed. Not a penny, not a cent for this criminal war! We demand a programme of useful public works!
The working class must also defend democratic rights. No curtailment of democratic rights under the pretext of the war! We demand the lifting of all anti-trade union laws! Defend the right to strike and demonstrate! Only the use of these weapons have conquered democracy in the past, and they alone can defend our rights now!
Blair, Aznar, Berlusconi - all these "democrats" have ignored the views of the majority. The voices of millions of demonstrators have gone unheard in the mad stampede to war. Let us organise new and even more massive demonstrations. But let the workers organise the kind of demonstrations that can really hit them where it hurts: let us raise the question of strikes and general strikes against these reactionary policies.
The power of the Labour Movement is awesome. Not a wheel turns, not a light bulb shines, not a phone rings without the kind permission of the working class. It is time to make that power a reality. Let our slogan be: "We are many: they are few". Let the voice of the working people be heard!
In the last analysis the only way to stop war is by carrying through the socialist transformation of society. This, however, is not a single act accomplished in one day. The way to prepare the forces for the socialist revolution is by organising a whole series of partial actions through which the working class and the youth gain experience and learn the lessons that can prepare them for greater things.
A vital part of the struggle for the transformation of society is the struggle to transform the mass organisations of the working class - the trade unions, the Labour Party and the Socialist and Communist Parties. The bureaucracies that have taken over these organisations and dragged them from the course for which they were historically created represent only a thin layer. They are kept in power by the apathy and inertia of the workers. We must fight to reclaim these organisations, to purge them of bureaucrats and careerists and turn them into real vehicles for the transformation of society.
Trade unionists! Socialists! Communists! Demand a recall conference to discuss the war issue and work out a militant programme for action against the war! In Britain above all, it is necessary to call a recall conference of the Labour Party and demand the deselection of all those MPs who voted for the war - beginning with Tony Blair.
The present moment may feel like an hour when darkness is settling on the face of the earth. The forces of reaction may seem to be in the saddle everywhere, treading on the face of humanity. But the darkest hour always comes just before the dawn. This carnival of reaction and war is preparing the ground for explosive developments on a world scale. In these developments the working class and its organisations will play the key role, ands within them, the Marxist tendency will be at the forefront. The audience for our ideas will double, treble and quadruple as the masses, beginning with the advanced guard, assimilate the lessons of great events. Society and the Labour Movement will be shaken from top to bottom. Sooner or later, in one country or another, the conditions will be prepared for a social revolution.
The US imperialists feel they can do anything they like anywhere, at any time. The end result will be to cause chaos on all fronts. This will give rise to revolutionary possibilities everywhere. To those reactionaries who identify revolution with chaos, we say: it is your system that is breaking down everywhere. That is what is causing chaos. Revolution does not cause the chaos, but puts an end to it by establishing a new social order that will radically abolish the causes of the chaos.
Modern science tells us that out of chaos comes order. But in order to bring this about, a catalyst is necessary, as in chemistry. This catalyst is none other than the revolutionary party and leadership of the working class. To those who regard the coming war with dread and draw pessimistic conclusions about the future of humanity we say: War is evil, but it is a product of the contradictions of global capitalism. If you wish to eradicate war, then join the international Marxist tendency and fight for the transformation of the anti-war movement into a conscious fight against capitalism, for the socialist transformation of society on a world scale. The only war worth fighting is the class war.
London, March 13, 2003.
- The Irresistible Descent Into War. By Alan Woods ( February 28, 2003)
- Their Morals and Ours. By Alan Woods (February 25, 2003).
- The causes of the Franco-American conflict and the policy of the French left on the war in Iraq. By Greg Oxley (February 20, 2003).
- Iraq and the crisis in the western alliance By Alan Woods (February 14, 2003)
- Every member of the UN Security Council has a price. By Fred Weston(February 11, 2003)
- The In Defence of Marxism Manifesto on the imperialist war against Iraq. By Alan Woods and Ted Grant (February 6, 2002)
- The war aims of the Great Powers in the Middle East and the consequences of the coming invasion of Iraq. By Greg Oxley (January 23, 2003)
- The Split in the western alliance - Can Europe's opposition prevent war? By Alan Woods (January 24, 2003)
- "Delenda est Carthago" - US imperialism hell bent on war with Iraq By Alan Woods (January 21, 2003)
- Iraq - Security Council gives the green light to US aggression, By Alan Woods, (November 11, 2002)
- Diplomacy prepares the way for war By Alan Woods. (September 25, 2002)