From Class Struggle 46 August/September 2002

As the dark clouds of Desert Storm Mk 2 loom over Iraq and the entire Middle East, clouds are appearing on the horizons of many of the Western governments directly or indirectly backing George Bush jnr’s war. From Britain to Australia to Auckland, a storm of protest is building at the West’s plans for yet another Third World War against a poor and desperate people. In Britain dozens of MPs, nine trade unions representing millions of workers, and two thousand religious leaders have all written to Tony ‘Tory’ Blair demanding that war plans be abandoned, and a huge rally is being planned to coincide with the beginning of an important Labour Party conference at the end of September. In Sydney, 200 groups responded to a call circulated recently to set up an anti-war campaign. In Auckland, where the left is very small and weak, about 70 people recently turned up to an anti-war planning meeting. The CWG has been protesting imperialist aggression against Iraq for well over a decade now, taking part in marches and pickets and running numerous articles in Class Struggle. For us, the sight of an emerging international movement against a new all-out war is a great encouragement. The emerging movement is also however also a great challenge, because many of its members have very different ideas from us about what the war drive means and how it can be stopped.

A Popular Front

The arguments of the foes of the new war on Iraq are often peppered with references to ‘international law’, to the UN, and to ‘Christian morality’. As Marxists, we have no faith in any of these forces to stop a new war on Iraq. The United Nations and international law are part of our problem, not part of its solution – the UN, after all, gave its blessing to Desert Storm Mk 1, and continues to enforce the trade sanctions that have killed well over a million Iraqis. And appeals to morality are unlikely to do have much effect on imperialism, a system that worships only the accumulation of capital.

The fact is that the emergent anti-war movement bears all the hallmarks of a Popular Front. A Popular Front is an alliance between the working class and a section of the capitalist class. In Britain, many anti-war workers are joining forces with religious leaders, pro-peace business leaders, and right-wing politicians of the Liberal and even Conservative parties. In Britain and elsewhere, many business leaders and politicians are opposed to war not out of concern for the Iraqi people but because they support the European Union, which is the US’s imperialist rival in the Middle East.

The pro-Europe forces think that countries like Britain would benefit from other Europeans states’ bids for trade and oil extraction deals with the Middle East, and that an occupation of Iraq by the US will ruin these bids. Because it is militarily much weaker than the US, the EU likes to work through the UN and ‘international law’, and this makes it seem to some, including many in New Zealand, like a ‘nice’ imperialist power compared to the ‘nasty’ US. Let’s not forget, though, that this ‘nice’ imperialist power was an enthusiastic player for the wrong side in Desert Storm Mk 1, and has since dropped tens of thousands of bombs on Yugoslavia in two different wars!

Marxists oppose Popular Fronts because they agree with Marx that ‘the emancipation of the working class must be the task of the working class itself’. Big Bill Haywood made the same point another way when he said that ‘the employer class and the working class have nothing in common’. Historically, the Popular Front has been better at starting wars than ending them: the First World War, which was also the first great inter-imperialist war, was started when the leaders of the workers’ parties in different European countries abandoned Marxist principles and supported the war plans of their opposing ruling classes. Today, workers are in a Popular Front to stop war, not start it, but they nevertheless risk being used as pawns in another power game between rival imperialists. In calling for a ‘UN solution’ and for ‘the rule of international law’ they play into the hands of the Euro-imperialists.

Who Can Stop the War?

If politicians and the United Nations can’t stop the war on Iraq, who can? We can answer this question by looking at two imperialist wars that were brought grinding to a halt – the First World War, which was stopped on the Eastern Front by the Russian Revolution of 1917, and the Vietnam War, which Vietnamese anti-imperialists eventually ended in 1975. In both 1917 and 1975, it was anti-war action by a particular group, the working class, which secured victories for peace. We should not be surprised that the same social force was responsible for stopping wars so separated in time and space, because the working class is the universal opposition that capitalism and imperialism create in very country on every continent. It is workers, after all, who suffer the most from war. They are the ones dying in understaffed hospitals, when million-dollar bombs fall on their brothers and sisters in ‘enemy’ cities. They are the ones who are told to ‘tighten their belts’, as war is used as an excuse to cut wages. They are the ones who travel home from the front in body bags.

The international working class is not only the group most affected by war – it is the group most able to stop war. The entire imperialist war machine would grind to a halt in days, if workers in the arms and transport industries simply folded their arms and refused to work. No imperialist army can capture or hold ground if the uniformed workers in its ranks refuse to shoot the workers on the other side. The movement that ended the Vietnam War proved the common interests and power of the international working class, by getting millions out on the street and out on strike around the world, and sparking endless mutinies in the US-led armies in South Vietnam.

An international movement against the war on Iraq can only succeed if it acknowledges that it is supporting the direct resistance of the Iraqi people. When US planes are bombing Iraqi schools and hospitals, how can we not support the Iraqis trying to shoot them down? As the Interview with an Iraqi Communist published in this issue of Class Struggle shows, Saddam is a creature of imperialism. The US has decided it wants to replace Saddam with a friendlier dictator, but a defeat for Iraq will only strengthen the force that creates Saddams all over the world. A defeat for the US, on the other hand, might give the Iraqi people the strength and confidence to get rid of Saddam. Iraqis are the first line of defence against imperialist war, but they must be backed up by workers internationally, if they are to defeat the US and its allies.

From Minority to Majority

Because only a small minority of the emerging movement against war on Iraq currently agrees with our working class, internationalist answer to war, we on the revolutionary left face some tough choices. We must decide, and quickly, how we are going to deal with the majority of the movement which has illusions in the UN and in ‘good’ imperialists. One way of dealing with the situation would be to decide not to work with the majority who have taken views that don’t fit the revolutionary mould, and to focus on building a ‘pure’ movement of anti-war activists with the correct, anti-imperialist ideas. At the other extreme, revolutionaries could decide to put their independent politics aside, and work within the broad movement for reformist aims like a ‘UN solution’.

The CWG believes that both of these approaches are wrong. We call the first approach sectarianism, and we call the second approach opportunism. Sectarianism is wrong because a ‘pure’ politics is no use without large force to put it into action, and opportunism is wrong because a large force is no use without the right politics. We think that revolutionaries must try and avoid the extremes of sectarianism and opportunism, by working with the emerging anti-war movement while also promoting their independent politics wherever possible. If the revolutionary left can get support for its politics and practice in the broad Popular Front, then the pro-imperialist components of the front will expose themselves for what they are, and be booted out by workers.

In Auckland, the CWG has a number of members and supporters active in the Anti Imperialist Coalition. The AIC is a United Front, or a collection of groups and individuals with politics in the working class alone, and it aims to intervene in the emerging broad movement against a new war on Iraq using a ‘two-track’ strategy. The AIC argues that a successful anti-war movement must be broad, must be democratic, and must have a strong anti-imperialist current. In other words, the AIC is committed to building the movement as a whole and to building an anti-imperialist current inside it.

During the movement against the invasion of Afghanistan last year, the AIC worked inside the broad Popular Front Anti-War Coalition, arguing successfully for an anti-UN line and a ban on pro-war speakers at rallies. At the same time, the AIC organised its own independent meetings and protests outside the AWC, in order to further promote its politics. For instance, the AIC sometimes publicised upcoming AWC-organised marches by holding street corner ‘speak in’ meetings in working class areas which it also used to promote its own agenda and politics.

We think that the AIC’s approach to anti-war work offers a positive alternative to the dead-ends of sectarianism, on the one hand, and opportunism, on the other.

Get involved with the AIC! Visit the coalition’s website and read its anti-war bulletin at

The AIC meets every Wednesday at 7.30 pm at Trades Hall, 147 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn Auckland. Phone 025 280 0080 Email:

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