The US Anti-War Movement and the January 18 Demonstrations

On January 18, Washington DC resounded with protestors. Along with San Francisco and other cities, an estimated half a million Americans pledged their solidarity with protestors the world over, rallying under the slogan: No to the War on Iraq! Other slogans included, "Regime Change Begins At Home", "Axis of Evil - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld", and "Dissent is Patriotic". John Peterson looks at the developing antiwar movement in the United States.  

As the drums of war grow louder and louder from Washington, (finding their echo in the usual venues of London and the UN Security Council), the anti-war movement has gained steam over the past few months. Mobilizations around the world have been organized to protest the actions of American capitalism - a million in Florence in November, tens and hundreds of thousands in Spain, Salzburg, Genoa, and elsewhere. The workers and youth of the world have repeatedly voiced their opposition to this war, and are not buying the flimsy pretenses of Bush and his cronies. Yet, although Bush is aware of the fact that he he's painted himself into a corner and that the UN inspectors have turned up empty handed, he has invested too many soldiers and too much of his prestige to simply pull out now. Also there are huge vested interests that are pushing the Bush administration to war. In the face of growing discontent at home and abroad, he knows it's now or never. Little does he know that he is careening headlong into a situation over which he could lose control very quickly.


WIL banner at the demo

The sky-high ratings he enjoyed post-September 11 are rapidly falling. The president's job approval rating was at 56 percent in a Newsweek poll and 53 percent in a CNN-Time poll released over the weekend. His approval rate was in the 60s in both polls in November. An Associated Press poll reports that most Americans want the United States to take more time seeking a peaceful solution in Iraq rather than moving quickly into a military confrontation. By a majority of 60 percent to 35 percent, people in a Newsweek poll released Saturday said they would prefer that the Bush administration allow more time to find an alternative to war. However, 81 percent would support a war if the United States were to act with full allied support and the backing of the UN Security Council. A majority would be opposed should this country act without the support of the United Nations and had no more than one or two allies. These figures show that deep down, Americans do not trust or want this war. But they feel that if the rest of the world supports it, it must somehow be OK. This underlines the dangerous and deceptive role of the UN.

The fact of the matter is that appealing to the dis-United Nations has done nothing but prolong the inevitable - which is that America will do whatever it decides. The UN has been used only as a fig leaf to give some propriety to the unilateral decisions of US imperialism. Bush has been forthright in his plans to defy the "international community" should it not back his plans for war. This exposes the absolute impotence of the UN. Many years ago Lenin explained that no trust could be given to the League of Nations which he called a "thieves' kitchen." Similarly, we understand that the UN is nothing but the world body of the capitalist class; the class which exploits and oppresses workers of all countries. The state is a tool of capitalist exploitation, a means through which the ruling class attempts to reconcile its inherently contradictory interests with those of the working class. United with the international big business owners, they act in their own interests, for profit, power, and the future of their rule. This analysis and understanding could not be any more crucial today.

Dissent within the so called "Security Council" is now virtually non-existent. Those countries which needed further convincing, like France, Russia and China, needed only a few closed door meetings with Bush to vote "yes" on Washington's plan for domination over the strategically and economically vital oilfields of the Middle East. In the end, money talks, and they were surely offered some nice gifts in exchange for their "support".

And so, on January 18, Washington DC resounded with protestors. Along with San Francisco and other cities, an estimated half a million Americans pledged their solidarity with protestors the world over, rallying under the slogan: No to the War on Iraq! Other slogans included, "Regime Change Begins At Home", "Axis of Evil - Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld", and "Dissent is Patriotic". Almost a year and a half after the terrorist attacks of September 11, the situation here in America is one of transition. The Bush administration has acted under the illusion that September 11 offered them a blank check to run around the world forcing its influence and might wherever it wills. But as Americans have moved on from their mourning, they've been shocked by the state of the economy and have been reluctant to buy Bush's fabrications about weapons of mass destruction and Iraq's imminent threat to global security.

The US ruling class ignores the lessons of Vietnam at its peril. They are so filled with arrogant confidence in their ability to dictate their terms and conditions to anyone and everyone that they are forgetting about the most powerful force on earth - the working class. Even the New York Times is nervous about the already growing dissent:

"Mr. Bush and his war cabinet would be wise to see the demonstrators as a clear sign that noticeable numbers of Americans no longer feel obliged to salute the administration's plans because of the shock of Sept. 11 and that many harbor serious doubts about his march toward war. The protesters are raising some nuanced questions in the name of patriotism about the premises, cost and aftermath of the war the president is contemplating. Millions of Americans who did not march share the concerns and have yet to hear Mr. Bush make a persuasive case that combat operations are the only way to respond to Saddam Hussein."

All workers are agreed that Saddam is a threat to our interests everywhere - he is a monster and no friend of the Iraqi or American people. But we also understand that Bush's policies pose a similar and perhaps even greater threat! We stand for the defense of the Iraqi people - the workers and peasants against Saddam's tyrannical regime and against American invasion. But is it the task of the oil millionaires in the US to "save" the Iraqi people? The US capitalists do not have the interests of the Iraqis at heart. Their policy of "regime change" is intended to install a pliable and pro-US government that will bow to every US demand. We must explain that instead of changing a few people or even an entire regime, we need to radically change the way the whole of society is run. Only when American workers have genuine democratic control over the running of society can they begin to change the conditions which breed poverty, ignorance, militarism and greed. However, this will not occur until the power and wealth which is currently in the hands of a tiny minority is wrested from them. The same applies to the Iraqi people - their enemy is the same as ours - world capitalism.

By eradicating poverty and homelessness, and working shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi masses, all working people would benefit. It would be a relatively simple affair to provide much needed relief, jobs, and education. The Iraqi people have no interest in attacking the US. They, like their American brothers and sisters want only stability, food, housing, healthcare, education, jobs, etc. It's capitalism - and the social conditions it gives rise to - that is the root cause of war, this one included. The only lasting solution to the problems of both American and Iraqi working people is to end the capitalist system of exploitation, division, greed, and instability.

The mass demonstrations of last weekend occurred even before the war has officially begun. In the present conditions of economic uncertainty, the war can have an extremely destabilizing effect. Even a quick and easy victory does not assure a stable future. The movement against the war, like the anti-globalization movement it has now merged with, must be expanded to include all layers of society. Above all, it must be given a clear class character and working class leadership. War and foreign policy are an extension of domestic policy. The brutal attacks on US workers in terms of employment, healthcare benefits, quality of life, etc., are part and parcel of the plans of Bush and co. to tighten their grip on the world working class. Their aim both here and abroad is profit and power. Only if the international working class places itself at the head of the anti-war movement can a halt be put to the rapacious Bush clique and the entire capitalist class. Join us in the fight for socialism!

  • No to the war on Iraq!
  • No to the war on working people in the US!