What is to be done? - The current situation and the tasks of the Marxists

The war now determines everything. It is the most decisive element in the equation of world politics. It is reshaping the map of international diplomacy and profoundly modifying the web of world relations established since 1945. Its reverberations will be felt for decades ahead.

The war now determines everything. It is the most decisive element in the equation of world politics. It is reshaping the map of international diplomacy and profoundly modifying the web of world relations established since 1945. Its reverberations will be felt for decades ahead.

The war of US and British imperialism was not an accident. It was not a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. It flowed inexorably from the whole situation. It is a concentrated expression of the crisis of capitalism on a world scale. Here the old saying of Clausewitz is confirmed in a most striking way: War is only the continuation of politics by other means.

For many people this war is a kind of collective madness that cannot be explained. It is the product of the madness of Bush, the stupidity of Blair, and so on. Undoubtedly, there is an element of truth in this opinion. The right wing neo-Conservative clique of religious fundamentalists in the White House represent the most shortsighted and obtuse leadership the United States has ever had. Their conduct in this war at times indeed resembles a kind of madness. Yet, in the words of Shakespeare: "though this be madness, yet there's method in it."

Hegel pointed out that necessity expresses itself through accident. The mental capabilities of Bush and Rumsfeld are an historical accident that can explain this or that peculiarity of the conduct of US imperialism, but not its inner essence. The fundamental currents of world politics are determined by deep processes at work in the world capitalist economy, and the diplomatic and military configurations that flow from it.

The conduct and individual capabilities of political and military leaders can and do affect the innumerable crosscurrents and eddies that always accompany turbulence, and invest it with an extremely complicated character. This makes it so difficult to predict the outcome of wars and political and economic crises in detail. In the same way it is impossible for scientists to determine with certainty the movement and position of individual molecules in a gas or sub atomic particles. But the behaviour of the aggregate can be foreseen with complete certainty. There are parallels between this and the processes at work in human history.

The present war was caused by a large number of variables. But in essence it is a reflection of something else. That something is the impasse that has now been reached by the capitalist system on a world scale. The fundamental causes of this impasse is on the one hand private ownership of the means of production and on the other the barrier to the development of the productive forces imposed by the narrow limits of the nation state.

The phenomenon of globalisation, which was already predicted by Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto, was only a recognition that the development of the productive forces had come into conflict with the straitjacket of the nation state. All countries were compelled to participate in the world market and are subordinate to the international division of labour and the vagaries of world trade.

There can be no doubt that the enormous intensification of the international division of labour and the rapid expansion of world trade acted as a powerful stimulant to the development of capitalism in the entire historical period since 1945. It can be said that it was this that saved capitalism. For a whole period it enabled capitalism - partially and for a temporary period - to overcome the limitations of the nation state. For all this time, the growth of world trade has continually outstripped the growth of production.

But the development of world trade, as Marx also explained, does not remove the contradictions of capitalism, but merely reproduces them on a vastly greater scale. Sooner or later this must reveal itself in a series of devastating crises, in which the process turns into its opposite. All the factors that impelled the world economy upwards now combine to produce a downward spiral. This is precisely what we are now seeing.

The economic crisis was not caused by the war, although the war will undoubtedly aggravate and exacerbate it. Long before the first shot was fired, the capitalist world economy was in crisis. The convulsions on the stock markets of the world announced the onset of a crisis, just as a thermometer announces the onset of a fever. In just two years, shares have lost at least half of their value and the falls are set to continue.

France, Germany and the USA

Some time ago, we predicted that the French and German governments would change their position on the war. This was a reasonable assumption to make, because they have always acted in this way in the past. The French bourgeois, who have their own interests to defend, have frequently clashed with the Americans, as in the case of Kosovo. They are rivals of the USA, especially in Africa and the Middle East, and are afraid (with good reason) that if the American imperialists take control of the Middle East and its oil wealth, they will be shut out. That is what dictates their attitude, not any love of peace and humanity. However, in the case of Kosovo, the French imperialists eventually changed their tune and accepted America's lead. This time they did not. Why?

The reason why the French did not change their stance this time is partly the crude and arrogant conduct of Bush and Rumsfeld. They are crude and ignorant - very typical representatives of the class they belong to. They believe that all problems can be resolved by the use of force. It is true that America possesses tremendous military and economic power, but it is not true that this is sufficient, in and of itself, to solve all problems. On the contrary, the injudicious employment of force can create far more problems than it solves. In a remarkably short space of time, George Bush and friends have succeeded in destroying almost all the international institutions created since 1945. They have also caused a deep split between Europe and America and within the European Union itself.

The furious and unprecedented attacks on France from the other side of the Atlantic as a result of its opposition to the plans of US imperialism in the Middle East put Chirac in an impossible position at home. To the degree that he opposed America, his support in France shot up. The same was true for Schroeder in Germany, who has, at least temporarily, saved himself by opposing a war that painfully reminds the German people of the time when they were the victims of vicious aerial bombardment. Chirac therefore found himself in the position of a man who has painted the floor and is trapped in a corner. He could not retreat without undermining his own position.

The real reason for the conflict between the USA and France, however, is a deep-seated conflict of interest on a world scale. France has serious interests in Africa and the Middle East and these interests are being challenged by America. The US military has built a big base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, from where it can control seven countries, including Somalia, Sudan and Yemen. The French imperialists rightly see this American interference in Africa as a threat to them.

In the context of a deepening world economic crisis, there is a ferocious struggle for markets, raw materials and spheres of influence everywhere, which not only gives rise to constant wars like the present conflict, but is producing a deep rift between Europe and America, as shown by the sharp conflicts over steel, agriculture and other goods. These conflicts will continue and deepen, posing a serious threat to world trade and thus to the future stability of the world capitalist economic order.

In this cynical game of international power politics, the so-called United Nations acts as a convenient cover for imperialism. Tony Blair is in deep trouble at home, where the war has never been popular. The swing in the opinion polls in favour of the war is misleading. It is the result of the shameless manipulation of public opinion on the theme of "supporting our boys", and it will not last long. As the list of British casualties grows (many killed by trigger-happy American pilots in so-called "friendly fire" incidents) and the scenes of dead and injured Iraqi civilians fill the television screens, the mood will swing sharply in the opposite direction.

The potential exists for a future clash between London and Washington on the conduct of the war and above all the post-war arrangements. Having used the British army to do its dirty work, US imperialism will cast its "ally" aside like a dirty rag. The British capitalists will not even receive the anticipated contracts for rebuilding what the American and British army has torn down. Almost everything has already been distributed to Bush's American friends who have liberally contributed to the coffers of the Republican Party in the past and are now queuing up for their reward.

In order to fool British public opinion into believing that this predatory war was really in the interests of the Iraqi people who are said to be "liberated", the British prime minister insists that the UN must have a big say in the post-war arrangements. This would suit the French and German bourgeois very well, because it might enable them to keep some of their economic interests in Iraq. But it does not suit the US imperialists at all.

At last conciliatory noises are now emerging from Paris and Berlin. The "pacifist" Joschka Fischer says he wants the Iraqi regime to be overthrown as soon as possible. The French government is also signalling frantically to London and Washington that it is really in favour of a victory for the Coalition forces - and the sooner the better (all in the name of humanitarianism, you understand). This may explain the somewhat friendlier relations between London, Paris and Berlin in the last few days.

Unfortunately, Blair's political problems are no concern of George W. Bush, who has his own future to think of. Moreover, since the US army is playing the main role in crushing Iraq, he sees no reason to make any concessions to the United Nations (that is, to France, Germany and Russia) - except to pass them (and the UN) a very large bill to pay both for the war and the hugely expensive reconstruction afterwards. They will be expected to pay, while US companies pocket the profits. In the end the American robbers will take everything for themselves. That is how things really stand. All the rest is just empty words.

The progress of the war

In invading Iraq, the US and British imperialists made a serious miscalculation. They thought that their crushing superiority in firepower and military technology would be sufficient to bring about a swift and relatively painless victory. Like Joshua before the walls of Jericho, a single blast of the trumpet would suffice to bring the walls tumbling down. But a few days of fighting was enough to reduce these illusions to ashes.

The stubborn resistance of the Iraqi army and people is not hard to explain. They are fighting a war of national liberation against a foreign invader who aims to occupy their land and plunder their resources. The question of the regime of Saddam Hussein has passed into a secondary order of importance. (In any case this was only a cynical excuse of the imperialists to justify the rape of Iraq before world public opinion). What matters is that the entire population feels, correctly, that they are fighting a war to save their country from imperialist domination. Even the Shiites in the south are fighting the invaders.

Marxists are not pacifists. We do not think that all wars are bad on account of the barbarity and cruelty they bring to innocent people. History knows all kinds of wars - both unjust and reactionary wars and also just and progressive wars. A people that is not prepared to defend its freedom arms in hand does not deserve to be free. A slave who is not prepared to fight against his slavery, deserves his chains.

In the wars of the slaves against their masters we are everywhere and always on the side of the slaves. In the wars of weak and exploited nations against powerful imperialist states that seek to occupy and enslave them, we are on the side of the former against the latter. In the present war we stand firmly on the side of the Iraqi people, and against the imperialist robbers.

The American imperialists are very powerful but a little obtuse. They were over-confident. They underestimated the enemy - a fatal mistake in war. The statements of Rumsfeld and others at the start of the conflict leave no room for doubt. They really believed it would be an easy task to defeat the Iraqis and march into Baghdad. Puffed up with the arrogance of power, they allowed themselves to be deceived by the false reports by the Iraqi opposition, which told them what they wanted to hear: the whole population was against the regime, they would rise up against Saddam and welcome the Americans as liberators, and so on. Now all these illusions have collapsed. They have been forced to admit that the war will be longer and bloodier than they had anticipated.

One small detail is sufficient to reveal the attitude of the Iraqi masses to this war. It was expected that a large number of refugees would flee from Iraq into Jordan and camps were built to house them. But instead of an army of refugees leaving Iraq there has been a big flow of Iraqis and other Arabs going into Iraq to fight the invaders. Some of these are committed to tactics like suicide bombing.

This fact has called forth a hypocritical chorus in the western media. The British and Americans, it seems, are entitled to bomb and blast Iraqi cities to their heart's content. But when a weak and poor people attempt to defend themselves with the only weapons they possess, this is - against the Geneva Convention! If it were not so tragic it would be comical.

The courage and determination of the Iraqi people against the world's most powerful imperialist state is determined by the fact that they are fighting a just war to expel foreign invaders from their soil. This is a most powerful factor in the present conflict, and one that the US imperialists and their stooges in London entirely failed to comprehend

Is this factor sufficient in itself to guarantee the victory of Iraq? Morale in warfare is a very important factor, but not the only one. Ranged against the people of Iraq are all the economic, technological and military resources of the most powerful imperialist state on earth. Sooner or later, the latter must prevail. It is only a question of time. But the question is: how long will the slaughter continue, and how high will the cost be in blood and gold? These questions will determine what happens far more than the question of who succeeds in vanquishing whom on the field of battle.

However, the end of the war is still not in sight and there can yet be surprises. The problems of the invaders will be multiplied a thousandfold when they enter Baghdad. Here their crushing superiority in the air will be of no use. The Iraqis will fight from every street corner and every rooftop. Every house will be a potential death trap. Every Iraqi will be a potential enemy. Heavy loss of life is inevitable and it will not be as one-sided as it has been so far. According to one calculation, the conflict could drag on for many months and the death toll in the Coalition army could be more than one thousand.

The anti-war movement

More than any other war in living memory, the final result will be determined not by bombs and missiles but by politics and the psychology of the masses, not only in Iraq but in Britain and America.

The mass movement against the war has no precedent in history. In the past, at the start of a war, the working class was usually paralysed by patriotic moods and the revolutionary wing found itself isolated. At the start of the Vietnam War there was not a single demonstration. Only later, when the body bags began to mount up was there an explosion of mass opposition in the USA.

On this occasion, there has been an unprecedented movement of the masses that has swept across the world. Millions of people who had never before participated in demonstrations have been brought to their feet. This movement took the imperialists by surprise. And it is still continuing.

The intensity of the protest movement naturally varies from one country to another. In the USA, where the entire mass media have been mobilised to whip up a war fever in the population, the mood of the majority is in favour of the war, but this will not last. There is no enthusiasm for the war in the general population. To the degree it drags on and produces ever increasing casualties both among the US forces and Iraqi civilians, the mood will change.

In Vietnam the USA was defeated on the home front. Towards the end, there was a mutinous mood among the American soldiers in Vietnam and a mass anti-war movement with revolutionary implications. That is what put an end to the war.

In Britain, the outbreak of war has led to a partial retreat of the anti-war movement. The government and the hired press have appealed to the people to "support our troops". This has affected part of the public. On the other hand, sections of the anti-war movement have been demoralised by the failure of the mass demonstrations to prevent war and have fallen into inactivity. However, new elements are coming to the fore, as shown by the spontaneous demonstrations of school students. The general mood remains hostile to the war, and new outbreaks of protest are inevitable.

In other countries the anti-war movement is increasing in numbers and intensity. In Spain, Greece and Italy, the mass demonstrations continue and have been accompanied by partial general strikes. In the Middle East, every Arab capital has been the scene of militant mass demonstrations, leading to violent clashes with the police. This is placing a question mark over the future of the pro-Western regimes in Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Morocco.

All over Asia, mass protests have occurred, especially in Pakistan, where the dictatorship of Musharraf, compromised by its relations with US imperialism, has been seriously weakened. In Turkey, where 90 percent of the population is fiercely opposed to the war, the government was forced to refuse to grant the American army permission to use its territory as a base for the invasion of Iraq.

This is the situation when the war is as yet in its early stages. But the fiercest phase has yet to begin. The final stage will necessarily entail heavy fighting in Baghdad and other cities. The death toll will be huge. The last pretence that this invasion is intended to "liberate" the people of Iraq will disappear. The feelings of anger and disgust against this criminal war will grow and find a militant expression in all countries.

Impotence of pacifism and reformism

The extremely broad sweep of the movement against the war, and the fact that most of those involved in it are unorganised and politically inexperienced, means that a certain amount of confusion is inevitable. If we add to this the fact that the working class in most countries has passed through a long period of inactivity and inertia, it was also inevitable that in the first stages the middle class pacifist elements would play a dominant role in the leadership.

The real problem here is the lack of authority of the ideas of Marxism in the new generation. The legacy of decades of Stalinism has been to undermine the influence and prestige that genuine Marxism enjoyed as a result of the October revolution. In addition the long years of relative prosperity and class peace has led to a softening of relations between the classes in Europe and the USA. A period of sharp class struggle, which is now on the order of the day, will be necessary to toughen up the working class and its advanced guard.

In the meantime, there is a strong influence of petty bourgeois ideas, which have unfortunately even penetrated the workers' movement, especially its upper layers. The working class does not live in a vacuum. It lives in close proximity to the middle class, whose outlook is always characterised by its extreme instability. The middle class intellectuals who have graciously condescended to "lead" the masses have introduced all kinds of alien ideas and prejudices into the Labour movement. The defenders of these ideas imagine that they represent "new" ways of thinking that have entirely relegated "old" Marxism. In fact, they merely repeat the prehistoric ideas of Proudhon, Bakunin and the "True Socialists" whom Marx and Engels already answered over 150 years ago.

These middle class trends are as heterogeneous as the class that gave birth to them. In its upper reaches the petty bourgeoisie stands close to the bourgeoisie and imperialism. This trend is represented most clearly by Blairism. But the lower layers of the petty bourgeoisie are closer to the working class and their ideas are tinged with a "socialist" coloration. However, its socialism is always mixed up with bourgeois ideology and prejudices. All these tendencies have one thing in common: they are organically incapable of breaking with capitalism and do not pose a threat to it.

Lacking any real understanding or perspective, the pacifists loudly demand that we "do something" to "stop the war". Such a demand appears eminently practical and immediate. But in fact, it is entirely empty. Those who demand of us that we immediately "do something to stop the war" have no conception of what war is, nor do they have the slightest understanding of the workings of our "democratic" system. Though they adopt the most "radical" and even "revolutionary" poses, their whole psychology is impregnated with reformist prejudices and a superstitious belief in bourgeois democracy.

The middle class pacifists and reformists imagine that governments are elected to carry out the "will of the people" and that they will listen to public opinion. After all, in a democracy, it is the opinions of the majority that decide! These people really live in a world of dreams. They have been so completely fooled by the pantomime of formal bourgeois democracy that their brains have become addled. But war soon tears aside such foolish illusions and reveals the crude reality of the dictatorship of the banks and giant companies that takes all the important decisions with not the slightest concern for the views or interests of the majority. In our so-called western democracy, everyone is allowed to say (more or less) what they think (although even that "right" is now being severely restricted) as long as the banks and monopolies decide what really happens. This is ten times more true in times of war.

The unspoken premise of their "direct actions" is this: that if we make enough noise, "they" must pay attention and stop the war. But "they" cannot be so easily influenced to act against their class interests, and least of all in a matter so important as a war. They do not understand that war is a serious business and cannot be stopped by "direct action". This is not a children's game! If the imperialists were able to ignore the mass demonstrations of millions of people, they are hardly going to pay much attention to smaller demonstrations now that the war has started.

We must patiently explain the facts of life to those prepared to listen. The imperialist war has exposed the real state of affairs in society: that behind the façade of formal bourgeois democracy lies a brutal dictatorship of the banks and giant monopolies who are the real masters of society. No matter which party is elected, the same small handful of super rich people takes all the important decisions. They decide whether millions of men and women shall work or starve, live or die. Their actions are determined by their insatiable greed for profit. And they have at their disposal the entire state machinery: the army and police, the secret police (which they prefer to be known as the "security services"), the bloated bureaucracy that absorbs a huge and increasing amount of the wealth created by the working class, the judges and the prison service, the majority of politicians and the prostitute press. To these people, the opinions of the majority are not of the slightest interest. And they decide what happens.

The Lefts and the United Nations

The trouble with the left reformists is that they do not have a really independent position. They lack the advantage of a clear Marxist perspective and therefore always tend to vacillate. Many of them are honestly opposed to the war but they really have no alternative to the policies of the right wing reformists. Even the best of them, like Tony Benn in Britain - undoubtedly an honest and courageous man - have illusions in the UN.

Foreign policy is only a continuation of domestic policy. The reformist Labour leaders (including the Left Reformists) believe that it is possible to reconcile irreconcilable class interests. They believe in the harmony of wage labour and capital, and that the lion shall lie down with the lamb. They preach class collaboration ("in the national interest") at home. How could they have a different position on international affairs?

Just as the reformists fervently believe in the possibility of achieving class peace through mediation between the classes, which would allow the capitalist system to continue forever, but without its ugly features of exploitation, so they believe that the present world system of imperialism can be made acceptable through international mediation. The imperialists can be persuaded to see reason and stop plundering small weak countries of their assets, to reduce their profits through clever mechanisms like the Tobin tax, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked. The lion will be taught to eat lettuce instead of raw flesh. And this great miracle will be accomplished through the United Nations, which they see as the embodiment of a World Government, laying the basis for world peace and prosperity - and all without touching a hair on the head of world imperialism!

Before the commencement of hostilities, the pacifists' attentions were wholly absorbed by the "drama" unfolding in the UN Security Council. They believe, you see, that the "United Nations" can guarantee world peace. For behold! Is it not written in the Charter? The naivite of these Friends of the United Nations is truly a wonderful sight. However, in what way the representatives of the capitalist gangsters of the world could somehow be transformed into the champions of peace and progress is impossible to understand. If such a miracle could be achieved it would make the attempts of the alchemists to turn lead into gold look like a children's game.

Alas! All the fussing and fiddling in the Security Council led to nothing. It did not and could not prevent war. All that it succeeded in doing was to divert the attention of the world away from the systematic build up of troops in the Gulf, and demonstrate to the entire world the futility and hypocrisy of the (dis)United Nations. Of course, the war has not stopped and the UN does not even have the courage to pass a resolution denouncing the war as illegal. Instead they make hypocritical speeches about "humanitarian aid" - after the American and British imperialists have destroyed the infrastructure of Iraq and bombed it back to the Stone Age. Yet, amazingly, our pacifist and reformist friends continue to appeal to the UN to "stop the war".

Since the "Peace Movement" was based on a false assumption (Our "democratic" governments will listen to us) they were shocked and awed when the said governments paid absolutely no attention to them. As a result, many fell into a state of passivity. The impotence of pacifism was completely exposed by the start of the war. Especially in Britain, the Liberals slyly distanced themselves from opposition to the war and fell into line. And many of those "Lefts" who had opposed the war also made themselves invisible. Clare Short, having made a radical-sounding criticism of Blair and threatened to resign if Britain went to war without the blessing of the UN, in the end decided that her Ministerial career must come first.

Recently another pacifist "Left", Mo Mowlam, wrote an article in which she explained that, although she was against the war, it had started anyway, and what was now needed was to pursue it more vigorously in order to get it finished as soon as possible. These people are men and women of principle, and so their motto is: "OK, if you don't like my principles, I'll change them."

These examples graphically reveal the limitations of left reformism, which in the last analysis always tends to capitulate to the right wing. But the Lefts, under the pressure of the rank and file, will inevitably move into open opposition to the right wing in the future. They will attract the support of the leftward moving workers and youth. Our attitude to them will be one of critical support: wherever they take a step forward and confront the right wing, we will support them and urge them to go further. Whenever they take a step back we will subject them to an implacable criticism. This is the best way to assist the formation of a left opposition, while fertilising it with the ideas of Marxism.

Confusion of the anarchists

Among the petty bourgeoisie there is a left wing. Left wing liberalism is called anarchism. They are the ones who loudly demand that "something must be done" to "stop the war". And since the governments will not listen to the mass movement, we must resort to tactics that will force them to listen. These tactics come in all colours and sizes, from collective vomiting (to show our disgust!) to burning cars in Fords showrooms (a serious blow against US imperialism). And since human ingenuity is infinite, there are a thousand and one other possible forms of this "direct action".

On the "left" wing of the petty bourgeoisie we see a bewildering array of ideas and tendencies, from the pretentious pseudo-intellectual gibberish of the Toni Negri school, to the confused petty bourgeois radicalism of groups like Attac and others who manage to combine elements of anarchism with a confused brand of reformism. In the underdeveloped countries we have the poisonous influence of the so-called NGOs, which are essentially agencies of imperialism designed to buy off and corrupt former leftists and divert the mass movement of the workers and peasants into "safe" reformist projects that present no threat to capitalism or imperialism.

All these tendencies are, of course, bitterly hostile to Marxism. They play no progressive role, but only serve to confuse the movement. Their hatred of Marxism is not accidental. A muddlehead always hates a person with clear ideas. But the present situation demands clear ideas and precise formulations. Confusion and vacillation, even when accompanied by "direct action", do not add up to a programme. Those who introduce confusion into the movement play a reactionary role, preventing the leftward moving workers and youth from drawing all the necessary conclusions and adopting a consistent revolutionary position.

They do not understand that the only way to prevent war is by overthrowing capitalism. That is a reflection of their whole world outlook, which is fundamentally conservative and anti-revolutionary. Behind the demand for "immediate solutions" and "doing something practical against war" lies the idea that we can achieve our basic objectives without abolishing capitalism. That is an idea quite in the spirit of the most cowardly reformism. That is why all these people avoid the question of the state as the devil avoids holy water. A revolutionary break with capitalism does not enter their perspective at all. The class nature of society and war is a closed book for them.

Marxists are implacably opposed to this criminal imperialist war. But our opposition is dictated by revolutionary considerations. It is worked out from a class point of view and is based on the conviction that capitalism is the root cause of wars in the present epoch and that, consequently, the struggle against war is only an empty phrase unless it is linked to the struggle against imperialism and capitalism on a world scale.

Our slogans and tactics are ultimately determined by our general aims. We must constantly bear in mind the class content of the war, its fundamental causes, without which a real struggle against war is impossible. We must not be diverted by the pressures of petty bourgeois pacifist and anarchist moods that predominate in the "Peace" movement, and who believe that war is some kind of madness of human error that can be prevented by this tactic or that.

Despite the superficial appearance of radicalism, this kind of "direct action" does not serve to advance the anti-war movement one inch. On the contrary, it has a negative effect, giving the mass media the excuse to present the anti-war movement as a bunch of crazy anarchists, vandals and anti-social elements. These tactics do not express strength but weakness and impotence. They are not an advance on the earlier mass demonstrations but a big step back.

Against individual terrorism!

Even more negative would be the appearance of acts of individual terrorism. This is, regrettably, a distinct possibility. The daily scenes of mayhem and violence in Iraq, the massacre of innocent women and children by the imperialist brigands, is producing a mood of understandable anger and indignation in a wide layer of the youth in different countries. This can easily give rise to a desire for revenge that can express itself at a certain stage in terrorist acts. The burning of cars belonging to Americans in Italy is a warning.

On this question we must express ourselves with the utmost clarity: acts of individual terrorism are extremely harmful to the anti-war movement. They will not stop the war but only provide the state with a convenient excuse to crack down on the anti-war movement and introduce even more anti-democratic laws that in the future will be used against the working class and the labour movement.

It is our elementary duty to initiate, support and encourage each and every protest against imperialism. We will naturally support the most militant forms of mass protest, but not the stunts of a handful of "heroes" who try to substitute themselves for the masses. We are not interested in "symbolic" actions or stunts. We are interested in fighting the real enemy, not symbols and mirages. Our aim is to involve the masses at every stage, and we will have succeeded only when the movement acquires the broadest mass character. Actions that alienate and repel the masses must be strongly discouraged. The place for stunts and games is the circus not the anti-war movement, which is a serious matter, and must be treated seriously.

The existence of ultra-left, anarchist and even terrorist moods among a section of the youth is entirely the responsibility of those so-called Labour leaders who have discredited the Labour movement by capitulating to capitalism and imperialism. Even more, it is the responsibility of those Lefts who have failed to provide a serous lead in the anti-war movement, and are incapable of offering the youth a genuinely militant socialist perspective. As Lenin pointed out, ultra-leftism is the price the movement has to pay for opportunism.

We must always be flexible on questions of tactics. It is quite natural that, in the absence of a mass revolutionary Marxist party, many of the youth will be inclined to ultra-leftism and anarchism. We should not cut ourselves off from this youth but establish contacts with them, participate in the struggle with them and try to raise their level of understanding of the true nature of the war and the correct way to fight against it. Eventually, we will be able to separate the best elements from the petty bourgeois adventurers and clowns. But the first rule is to get involved.

In short, we will support every mass action that carries the movement forward, but will not support the kind of action that tends to disorient, split and confuse the movement. We will support militant initiatives of the youth involving such things as mass actions to block the roads, ports or railway lines as a protest against the war. We will also explain to the activists that such actions, by themselves, will not stop the war, but play a positive role in mobilising the youth in the anti-war protest and in educating them in the real nature of the state as a repressive organ of power.

A good example of this is the "Ship-spotters" campaign in Belgium, organised by the Belgian Marxists (of the journal Vonk). They have been mobilising the youth around the issue of the transportation of military hardware to the Gulf through Belgium, in particular through the port of Antwerp. A central demand in their campaign is that it must be the trade unions who organise the blacking of military hardware destined for Iraq and this is now beginning to have an echo among the workers. The important maritime pilots and their union in the harbour of Antwerp have already decided to black US ships carrying weaponry for the Gulf. This is a real concrete action that can actually have an effect on the progress of the war and it is an example of how the level of understanding as to the tasks that need to be carried out can be raised by the systematic intervention of the Marxists in the antiwar movement.

We call for the blacking (boycotting) of all military hardware and weaponry being sent to the Gulf. The ports, trains and lorries must not be allowed to be used for the war effort. The dockworkers', the railway workers', the lorry drivers' unions must be called on to apply such a boycott systematically. We have already had indications (in Britain, in Austria, in Italy, in Belgium and other countries) that the workers are ready to apply such methods. What is needed is a lead from the leaders of the unions to generalise and make official such actions.

This is the best way of avoiding the development of dangerous tendencies among a layer of desperate youth. If they can see that it is possible to mobilise the labour movement they will understand the futility of any kind of action which verges on so-called individual "direct action". Thus we will implacably oppose any tendency in the direction of individual terrorism, which can only undermine and destroy the movement. This poses a serious danger, especially as the security forces of the state will without the slightest doubt have infiltrated their agents into the anti-war movement with the aim of staging provocations. They will always be mixed up with the provocateurs and ultra-left idiots who systematically try to engineer confrontations with the police. The purpose of this is to give the police an excuse to crack sculls and arrest people, while at the same time discrediting the mass movement. Terrorist acts, in which the agents of the state are frequently involved, can play only a reactionary and counterproductive role.

The Russian Marxists always fought a relentless struggle against the advocates of individual terrorism, whom they correctly called "liberals with bombs". The common feature of all these petty bourgeois trends is their complete lack of confidence in the masses. That is just as true of the terrorist who operates behind the backs of the masses, while always peaking in their name, and the liberal parliamentarian who considers himself a "man of the people" although the role of the people is reduced to putting a cross next to his name on a ballot paper every five years or so.

On the contrary, Marxists take their stand on the movement of the proletariat. And the task of the emancipation of the working class is the task of the workers themselves. We do not require the help of "saviours" and "heroes", whether of the liberal or the terrorist variety.

What we demand

Our aim is to encourage those mass actions that have a genuinely anti-imperialist content, and to do all in our power to take the anti-war movement in an anti-capitalist direction. This means linking it firmly to the organised working class movement, especially the trade unions and shop stewards committees, but also the mass parties of the working class. The best way to provide the anti-war movement with a cutting edge is to ensure that the demonstrations are linked with strikes of the working class against the war. This will hit the capitalists where it hurts!

Our policy and slogans are determined in the first place by our attitude to the war. This is a monstrous imperialist war against a weak and poor Middle Eastern country. Its aims are dictated by the greed of the imperialists for plunder, and the desire of the US imperialists to demonstrate its immense power. It aims to crush Iraq as the first step in its campaign to dominate the whole of the Middle East and to possess its vast oil wealth. In the last analysis, it is a war for the domination of the whole world.

It is clear that every class-conscious worker and every honest and progressive person must participate actively in the fight against US imperialism - the most counterrevolutionary force on the planet. We must oppose the war on the Iraqi people with all our strength. But we must do so in such a way that, taking into account the specific level of consciousness of the mass of workers and youth in our own country, we strive to raise the consciousness to the level demanded by history.

We support the just struggle of the Iraqi people in their war of national liberation. We demand the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Iraqi soil. Let the Iraqi people determine their own future without outside interference!

In what way can we help the Iraqi people? Certain ultra-lefts, who have read a couple of lines of Lenin and not understood a single word, will advance radical-sounding slogans, which, on closer inspection, prove to be quite empty of content. One recalls the demand of one such group for a "united military front" with the Taliban. They were so delighted at having discovered such a wonderful slogan that they were like a little boy with new shoes. They did not even notice that this slogan was entirely devoid of any real content and was merely an exercise in demagogy.

A united front, in Lenin's sense, is always a united front for action. But then we should ask those who advanced this slogan: what precisely did the "united military front" consist of? How many guns did they send to Kabul? How many battles did they participate in? How many of their followers volunteered to go to fight alongside their Taliban "allies", no answer will be forthcoming. This is logical, since the slogan of the so-called united military front had no military significance whatsoever. The word "military" was only added to cover for the fact that they advocated support for the reactionary Taliban regime, in the mistaken belief that this was Lenin's policy of revolutionary defeatism. Anyway, it sounded quite revolutionary.

This kind of terminological radicalism has nothing in common with the policies and methods of Lenin and Trotsky. The correct way to help the people of Iraq is not by playing with words but by putting forward a consistently anti-imperialist policy in such a way that is can actually get an echo among the workers of the USA and Britain and get them to oppose the war and force the withdrawal of the troops. This requires a mass movement at home of such intensity that the American and British imperialists - and their Spanish, Italian and Australian allies - are compelled to change their plans.

Real democracy means socialism

The working class must fight against the war and imperialism, but it must do so under its own banner, with its own programme, slogans and policies. We can and must enter into joint actions with the most militant sections of the petty bourgeoisie, but the first condition for united action is: no mixing up of banners and programmes! March separately and strike together!

Under no circumstances can we agree to abandon our socialist programme on the grounds that this may frighten away the middle class. Anyone that is so terrified of the idea that war, imperialism and the big monopolies are inextricably linked is useless anyway, and will inevitably desert and betray the anti-war movement when things get a little hot - if they have not already done so. Such fair weather friends are at best unreliable and unstable allies. If we must collaborate with them, we should always be sure to keep one eye on the enemy and the other firmly fixed on our "ally" who may leave us in the lurch at any moment.

What is necessary is to put forward a transitional programme of demands that are capable of reaching the ears of the working class in the imperialist countries. For this, ultra-left phrases will not suffice. It is necessary to take into account the real level of consciousness. We will start by defending all the social, economic and political conquests of the working class, for whoever is not capable of defending the ground already won will never be capable of leading the working class to the final conquest of power.

Marxists are by no means indifferent to democracy, and will fight tooth and nail to defend all democratic rights that are now threatened by the imperialists. Those who shout loudest about democracy are always the first to introduce reactionary laws that restrict hard-won democratic rights in time of war or "national emergencies". Workers must fight against any attempt to limit or abolish democratic rights. For the right to strike and demonstrate! No restriction on freedom of speech and expression! No witch-hunt against those courageous journalists who dare to defy the military censor and tell the truth about this criminal war!

While conducting an implacable struggle against the war, the Marxists of those countries which have sent soldiers to Iraq should attempt to win over the soldiers and their families. The reactionary and unjust nature of this war will eventually become clear to them as well. Already three British soldiers have refused to fight and have been sent back to Britain to face a court martial. There will be more such cases. The reactionaries will accuse us of failing to "back our boys". Our reply will be that the best way to back our boys is to bring them home.

The present war and the looming world economic crisis have serious implications for the workers of all countries. The capitalist class will try to use the war to carry through all kinds of new cuts and attacks on the living standards of the working class and the middle class. Our position is one of outright rejection of all such attacks. The working people and their families must not bear the cost of this war! Let the rich pay!

While the politicians lament that there is "no money" left to pay for hospitals, schools, pensions and housing, they are all busy filling their pockets at the expense of the people. For the bosses, war is an excellent time to get rich. The big arms companies are making fabulous profits from the war, and they are paid with the money that should be used for the basic needs of the people.

We demand the confiscation of the profits of the big arms manufacturers, and the nationalisation of the arms industries. Let us put an end to the plundering of the nation by a handful of wealthy bloodsuckers! And not only the arms manufacturers. Even before the first shot was fired it was announced that $800 million had been given to big American building contractors for post-war reconstruction in Iraq. Big profits are made by one group of capitalists for blowing up Iraqi cities and then more big profits are made by another group for rebuilding them! It is for this dirty business that thousands of Iraqis and hundreds of American and British lives are being sacrificed.

So while we are about it, let us also nationalise the banks and big corporations whose rapacious greed for profits are the root cause of all wars. They prate on about patriotism and the "national interest" while at the same time they close their factories as if they were matchboxes and throw tens of thousands out of work, to boost their profit margins. What is needed is a harmonious socialist plan of production, based on the nationalisation of the banks and big monopolies under democratic workers control and management.

The slogan of the general strike

We have already explained our attitude to this slogan. The general strike is a very important slogan. But it is necessary to understand that there can be different types of general strike. An indefinite general strike poses the question of power. It throws a challenge in the face of the ruling class. The question is posed point-blank: who is the master of the house: you or us?

The general strike therefore represents an extremely high point in the class struggle. It usually ends either in the greatest of victories or the most terrible defeat. Although it represents a revolutionary act, the general strike in and of itself cannot solve the question of power. For that, the transfer of power to the working class is necessary. A general strike may create the necessary conditions for the taking of power, but if this does not occur, the general strike will lead to a severe defeat.

There is nothing magical about a general strike, as the anarcho-syndicalists used to imagine. In and of itself it solves nothing. If the workers do not take power, then the bosses can simply wait until the general strike runs out of steam. They can always afford to wait, but the workers and their families cannot. In the end, the bosses will take their revenge for the fright they have suffered. The situation of the workers will be even worse than before.

It is therefore irresponsible to play with the slogan of the general strike. It should be used only when the conditions have ripened to permit us to pose the question of power. Otherwise, it is necessary to use a different slogan. The appropriate slogan at the present time is a 24-hour general strike. This would be a definite advance on what has been achieved so far. In some countries there have been stoppages of ten or fifteen minutes, called by the union leaders under pressure from below. In Greece there have already been two general strikes of up to four hours, and in some sections of the working class the strike was for the whole day. This shows that the potential exists for more militant action.

The Marxists in the unions will take up this slogan and attempt to popularise it in the workplaces. It is necessary to develop a campaign of agitation and propaganda in the unions in favour of a 24-hour general strike. This must be linked to the proposal of a day of action at a national or even an international level. That would be quite possible and would represent a step forward for the movement. The 24-hour general strike must be accompanied by other forms of action: street demonstrations and mass meetings to denounce the war.

We must, however, be on guard against the demagogic misuse of slogans. It is necessary to consider not only what is said, but also who says it and for what purpose. It often happens that the trade union bureaucrats will propose some kind of "all-European" action, which sounds very radical, but in fact is only a diversion because they do not intend to do anything to organise it. The Greek trade unions had called for such action. This reflects two things. One is the enormous pressure from below where there is great anger at what is happening in Iraq. But there is also a contradiction here. The trade union leaders are prepared to call general strikes and demonstrations against the war, but they have retreated on the issues that concern the Greek workers in Greece, such as pensions, labour rights, etc. Thus their campaigning on the war (although it is very welcome and shows the potential for working class antiwar activity and should be supported and developed) is at the same time a cover for their weaknesses on other issues. What they should be doing is combining the demands of the Greek workers together with the antiwar demands.

We have seen this kind of thing many times. The Italian CGIL, for example, has a long history of calling general strikes of a few hours or even of a few minutes. After a time, this can turn into a routine. It has little or no effect on the government and the employers and serves only as a safety valve to blow off steam. If the leaders propose such action, we will naturally do everything possible to make it a success and to give it the most militant character. If the bureaucrats are not willing to organise it, then the organisation of the strike should be taken out of their hands. In general, in all countries, the trade union officials are not capable of organising a party in a wine shop. Every worker knows that the success of any strike is only guaranteed by the active participation of the rank and file. The movement must be organised from the bottom.

As a means of generalising the movement, we must propose the idea of action committees, including workers, youth, unemployed, women and immigrants. The strikes must not be passive but active, that is to say, they must be accompanied by mass protest demonstrations and public and workplace meetings.

We must strive to politicise the movement and broaden it to include demands that go beyond the mere demand for peace. The situation has now gone far beyond that demand. People will say: What is the point in calling for peace now? The war has already started? This is a concrete question and it demands a concrete answer. The pacifists have no such answer. But there is a very simple answer. Since the right wing bourgeois government of Berlusconi will not listen to the voice of the Italian people, we must get rid of Berlusconi. The fact is that the Berlusconi government has already been weakened by a whole period of massive working class mobilisation and therefore it could easily fall. Down with the government! We demand elections now! The DS and PRC must take power and carry out an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist programme!

Such a programme would get an enthusiastic response from the masses. But the CGIL, DS and PRC are not putting it forward. They do not link the anti-war movement to the perspective of a change of regime, and therefore condemn it to impotence. For how can any of our demands be met while this reactionary government of the rich remains in power?

Instead of advancing the slogans that are really necessary, and that would really carry the movement forward, the PRC leadership advance the slogan of a European general strike, which they know will be difficult, if not impossible, to organise. It is necessary to face facts. To organise a general strike in one country is not a simple matter. To call for an international general strike is still more difficult. The conditions are different in every country, and it is not possible to turn the working class on and off, like opening and shutting a water tap. That is not a revolutionary but a bureaucratic conception. If the European general strike fails to materialise, the PRC leaders will shake their heads sadly and say to the rank and file: "You see! We were prepared to launch the most militant action, but the workers of Europe were not prepared to follow our bold lead. What are we to do? It is all hopeless, so better not do anything at all."

Of course, we should support even small initiatives that really help to carry the mass movement forward. But it is necessary to distinguish between slogans that really do this and empty demagogy that only confuses the workers and youth. We can certainly make use of the call for a European general strike in order to agitate for a really militant programme. But to entertain the least illusions in the good will of the trade union bureaucracy would be a mistake. We can use the fact that this call has been made to initiate a discussion in the trade union movement of what is to be done? The answer to this question, however, will be somewhat different in each country. In the case of Italy, the most pressing need is not for a European strike, but an all-Italian 24 hour general strike, together with mass demonstrations and meetings in every city, town and village demanding the immediate resignation of the government and new elections.

Fight to transform the workers' organisations!

In the case of Spain and Australia, the programme would be the same: mass strikes and demonstrations to demand immediate elections, kick out the bourgeois government and fight for a government of workers parties pledged to genuine socialist policies. But here we see the same problem: the official leadership of the movement does not want to give a lead. Everywhere it is the same. Those who should give a lead to the workers and youth are dragging their feet.

In Spain, where the socialist UGT, to its credit, has called a general strike, the Workers Commissions (CCOO) has disgracefully refused to collaborate. So degenerate are these so-called leaders that they would prefer to split the trade union movement rather than fight the bosses and their government. In fact, they have argued that they should not support a strike because it would damage their excellent relations with the employers! Is it possible to imagine a greater betrayal than this?

Fortunately, the rank and file of the Workers Commissions have not accepted this disgraceful capitulation. Many important Federations have rebelled against the leadership. It is quite possible that by the time these lines appear in print, the leadership will have been forced to change the line. But this is not enough. It is time to begin a serious and organised fight to kick out those union leaders who are not prepared to represent the views of the membership. Too many of them have established a cosy relationship with the bosses and the state. They must be removed and replaced with honest class fighters who have no interest except to fight for the working class.

We demand the democratisation of the unions! Election and right of recall for all union officials! No official to receive a higher wage than the workers he or she represents! All expense accounts to be open for the inspection of the membership! Down with class collaboration! For a militant trade union movement! Turn the unions into fighting organisations of the class!

The same situation exists in the mass political organisations of the working class. Under the pressure of capitalism in the last period, they have gone far to the right. The leaders of the Communist Parties no longer speak of Communism. The leaders of the Socialist Parties no longer speak of Socialism. They have all accepted the capitalist system and want to work within it. But this is not possible. In conditions of capitalist crisis, when these parties come to power they will be faced with a brutal alternative: either represent the interests of the people who elected you and take the economic power from the hands of the bankers, landlords and capitalist, or else betray the workers and the middle class and become tools in the hands of big business at home and imperialism abroad. There is no "third way".

The experience of Britain is not an exception. Blair is only a particularly crude expression of the general tendency of the mass reformist parties to become the administrators of Capital. This is not new. But under conditions of capitalist crisis, the Social Democrats cannot even give the reforms that they gave in the past. Instead of reforms they are carrying out counter-reforms. The crisis of capitalism also signifies the crisis of reformism.

The present crisis is preparing the ground for an explosion of the class struggle everywhere. There will be a sharp polarisation between the classes. Sooner or later this must be reflected inside the mass organisations - not just the unions but also the mass reformist parties. At a certain stage we will see the formation of mass left wings, of a left reformist or even centrist character (i.e. a tendency vacillating between left reformism and Marxism). The Marxist wing must participate in the left opposition as its most radical and consistent element. Only in this way can we gain the ear of the leftward moving workers and youth.

In Britain we can already see the outline of this process in the beginnings of a transformation of the unions. In one union conference after another the old right wing leaders have been kicked out and replaced by left candidates. And what happens in the unions today will tomorrow be repeated in the Labour Party. Blair's days are clearly numbered. The opposition to his leadership inside the Party has not gone away, and will emerge with redoubled force in the next period. In the end the Blairite right wing will be vomited out. The stage will be set for a swing to the left in the Labour Party, in which the Marxist tendency will gain ground rapidly.

Similar processes will unfold everywhere, with greater or lesser speed. The pace of events is accelerating. The war itself, despite its monstrously reactionary and barbaric character (or because of it) is arousing millions of people to political life. The masses do not learn from textbooks but from experience, and especially the experience of great events. And war is always a most cataclysmic event. But the masses cannot immediately come to revolutionary conclusions. They invariably seek the line of least resistance. They are attracted by the big organisations and the well-known names. That is why they will always in the first place seek to express themselves through the existing traditional mass organisations. Only a blind man could fail to see this.

Build the international Marxist tendency!

In 1938 Leon Trotsky stated that the crisis of humanity could be reduced to the crisis of leadership of the proletariat. Today these words are a thousand percent truer than when they were written. Trotsky believed that out of the Second World War there would be a revolutionary crisis that would lead to the destruction of the old Social Democratic and Stalinist Parties. Not one stone upon another would be left of them, he predicted, and the Fourth International would become the decisive force on the planet.

Trotsky's prediction was falsified by history. The capitalist system emerged strengthened from the Second World War, as did Stalinism. For a whole historical period the forces of genuine Marxism remained isolated. But now an entirely new historical period opens up before us. The collapse of Stalinism will prove to be not the end of history but only the prelude to a far greater historical drama - the worldwide crisis of capitalism. We are now witnessing the first act of this drama.

Trotsky spoke of the bourgeoisie "tobogganing to disaster with their eyes closed". How apt these words now seem! The stupidity of George W. Bush and his clique is no accident. The bourgeoisie long ago ceased to play any progressive role. They are not capable of developing the productive forces as they did in the past. Their system condemns the whole planet to unemployment, hunger and wars without end. They are a block on human progress in every sphere. How could such a class produce thinkers or statesmen of talent? Lenin said: a man on the edge of a cliff does not reason.

Bush and his clique are the representatives of a decadent ruling class and a dying social order. They understand nothing, and blunder from one mistake to another. In so doing they involuntarily stoke the fires of revolution everywhere and bring into being the very forces that will overthrow them. Thus, even the reactionaries conspire to destroy the system they are trying to preserve. They cannot help themselves.

All the objective conditions are maturing for the revolutionary overthrow of capitalism and the coming to power of the working class. Just one victory in any important country would transform the whole situation on a world scale in a far more dramatic way than the ten days that shook the world in November 1917. What is lacking is the subjective factor: the revolutionary party and the leadership. The most pressing task is therefore to build the revolutionary forces on a world scale on the basis of a genuine Marxist and Leninist programme.

This programme is the programme of the international Marxist tendency, whose ideas are expressed every day in "In Defence of Marxism" website. Our task is to build the Marxist tendency in every country as quickly as possible. With your help we will succeed. Now is not the time to stand on the sidelines! The tide of history is flowing strongly. It is flowing in the direction of socialist revolution. All that is living and vibrant in society will move in this direction. It is time to join the forces that are fighting for the socialist future of humanity!