From Class Struggle 49 March/April 2003

If Labour Parties are implicated in Bush's war, should workers try to build Green Parties or left Social Democratic parties like the Alliance? While their stand against the war appears better than Labour's would they be able to stop the war?

What ‘peace-loving’ capitalist governments?

At a recent GPJA (Global Peace and Justice Alliance) meeting Alliance activist Mike Treen began a talk on the impending war on Iraq with the statement: “I don’t think we can stop the war on Iraq, but we can make it more expensive for them to go to war”. What he meant was that we are unlikely to influence the Labour-Progressive Coalition Government to get them to recall the ships and planes. But we may make them unpopular and bring about their electoral defeat at the hands of political parties opposed to war.As a member of the Alliance, Treen clearly sees the Alliance rebounding into parliament at the expense of a Labour Government discredited because it won’t criticise the US policy of unilateral regime change. No doubt the Greens share this hope for a revival of their electoral fortunes too.

On the following Saturday, 15 February, New Zealand led the 12 million who rallied against the war. GPJA organised the Auckland rally of more than 10,000 people who marched up Queen Street to Myers Park. There an audience of at least 5,000 cheered loudly in support of resolutions that opposed a war against Iraq whether done in the name of the UN or not, and called on the Labour government to refuse to participate in this war. Water Pressure Group spokesperson Penny Bright got the loudest cheers of the day, when she condemned the UN Security Council and called for direct action at military facilities like Whenuapai Air Base.

On the following day at a‘Peace in the Park’ rally 2,000 people listened to similar speeches and a small group delivered a ‘letter’ with hundreds of signatures to the Prime Minister Helen Clark’s residence repeating the demand that Labour must oppose the war on Iraq. So clearly even if GPJA leaders did not think that they could stop the war, they had hopes of influencing NZ’s participation, or at least exposing Labour as a government committed to war, preparing the ground for political parties against the war to win support in the anti-war movement.

But what Treen failed to say, and what we in the Communist Workers Group and the Anti Imperialist Coalition constantly say, is that appeals to bourgeois governments of any sort cannot stop war. While they may claim to represent workers’ interests, Green and Social Democratic governments go to war to defend the profits of their own bourgeoisies. They do this because the labour bureaucracy that runs the unions and controls Labour Parties are paid for their services with a share of the bosses' profits, so have to prop up the profit system.

Lessons of History

In Australia, the Labor Party endorsed the First World War enthusiastically. Labor leader Billy Hughes traversed Britain holding public meetings to rally support for the war. What offended Labor workers in Australia was not so much Hughes’ jingoism as his parading around in a top hat sucking up to British royalty. Though Hughes was kicked out of the Labor Party this was over the issue of conscription not the war itself.In NZ Labour leaders like Peter Fraser went to jail rather than fight, but by the Second World War they were in government, and backed Britain’s war by introducing conscription and setting up a network of prison camps to house the thousands of workers who refused to fight for imperialism.

If that is the track record of past Labour governments, then Clark’s Labour-Progressive Coalition Government is no better. In fact the Greens and the Alliance say it’s worse because it took part in a secret war in Afghanistan where NZ SASS troops guided US bombers to their targets. But would the Greens or Alliance be any better in Government? What if the majority of voters break from the warlike Labour parties to back parties like the Alliance and the Greens who have come out against a UN-sanctioned war?Should workers place their hopes in ‘peace-loving’ Alliance-led or Green-led governments?

History is against the Green Left.

Peace movements’ directed at pressuring bourgeois governments, no matter how left-wing, have always been impotent before the imperialist drive to war. Why?Because such ‘movements’ are composed of individuals who see only the symptoms not the causes of war. They see war as a bloody minded ‘policy’ of some sections of the ruling class (hence the personal attacks on Bush or his pro-war ‘camp’, and on Blair’s moral hypocrisy) and appeal to the ‘democratic’ and ‘pacifist’ instincts of more enlightened sectors of the ruling classes. But when these ‘democrats’ also go to war on the basis of high moral principles i.e. ‘defending democracy against fascism’, or in the name of the ‘UN’ or the ‘international community’, the ‘masses’ fall prey to their dressed-up appeals to nationalism and jingoism and are soon drawn into the defence of their virtuous fatherlands against some ‘axis of evil’.

The idea that left wing, even supposedly ‘socialist’ governments, are any better at opposing war is disproved by the betrayals of the leaders of the Second Communist International and the Stalinist leaders of the Third Communist International in the face of the First and Second Imperialist Wars.

On August 4, 1914, the leaders of the Second International of ‘socialist’ parties renounced their clear program of refusing to fight in imperialist wars and instead backed their own bosses to draft workers to kill each other. A hard core of revolutionary workers around Karl Liebknecht, Rosa Luxemburg and Vladimir Lenin formed the Zimmerwald Left(see Class Struggle No 44, 45 & 47) to rally workers to fight against the war.Their position was that workers in each of the imperialist countries, including Russia, should ‘turn their guns on their own ruling class’ because they were the ‘main enemy’, not the workers of other countries.They would transform imperialist war into civil war overthrow their own ruling classes and go on to create a socialist, and ultimately a classless, society. By this means workers could turn the crisis of a bosses’ war into a solution for all humanity.

The example of 1917

That is why CWG repeats again and again that only organised workers’ action can stop war. And that to stop war, the cause of war, capitalism, has to be replaced by socialism. Workers as members of a class that is exploited by capitalism have a class interest in stopping war. They are the ones who are conscripted to kill one another – the cannon fodder – and they are the ones who are forced to work non-stop on the home front for the war effort.War divides them, but it also arms them and exposes them to the suffering of war, and teaches them that they can take action to end war.Historical examples abound.

In Russia the First Imperialist War was ended by a workers’ revolution. It was begun by the women textile workers of St Petersburg who went on strike on International Women’s Day in February 1917. Their strike set in motion the revolutionary process that led to the October Revolution. Trotsky has a powerful description of what happened in his History of the Russian Revolution:

“The 23rd of February (old style) was International Woman’s Day. The social-democratic circles had intended to mark this day in a general manner: by meetings, speeches, leaflets. It had not occurred to anyone that it might become the first day of the revolution. Not a single organisation called for strikes on that day. What is more, even a Bolshevik organisation, and a most militant one – the Vyborg borough-committee, all workers – was opposing strikes…On the following morning, however, in spite of all directives, the women textile workers in several factories went on strike, and sent delegates to the metal workers with an appeal for support…Thus the fact is that the February revolution was begun from below, overcoming the resistance of its own revolutionary organisations, the initiative being taken of their own accord by the most oppressed and downtrodden part of the proletariat – the women textile workers, among them no doubt many soldiers’ wives.” (Vol 1 119-120).

This strike led to a mass strike where thousands of workers rallied behind cries for ‘bread’ and the slogans “Down with the autocracy!’ and ‘Down with the war!’ In five days the masses won over the rank and file of the soldiers fed up with war and went on to overthrow the Tsarist state. Trotsky recounts how relations between workers and soldiers developed in the days before the strike:

“Two weeks before the revolution, a spy… reported a conversation in a tramcar traversing the workers’ suburb. The soldier was telling how in his regiment eight men were under hard labour because last autumn they refused to shoot at the workers of the Nobel factory, but shot at the police instead.“We’ll get even with them’ the solider concluded. A skilled worker answered him: “For that it is necessary to organise so that all will be like one.” The soldier answered, “Don’t you worry, we’ve been organising a long time…They’ve drunk enough blood. Men are suffering in the trenches and here they are fattening their bellies.” (164).

The war in Russia did not end immediately. While workers and soldiers formed soviets and went on to make the October 1917 revolution, not until the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in early 1918 was the new Soviet government able to negotiate a peace with Germany.

On the wider European front the war was stopped by a soldiers’ and sailors’ mutiny in Germany at the end of 1918. The British and German general staffs rapidly agreed to stop hostilities for fear that the ‘Bolshevik Revolution’ would spread to Europe.Unfortunately, the revolutionaries were too poorly organised to be able to turn these mutinies into successful revolutions like in Russia. The defeat of revolution in Germany in 1919 left the workers’ movement divided and weakened. This created conditions in which workers became the target of rising fascist movements based on the ruined middle class and disaffected elements of the working class. The isolation of the Soviet Union soon led to the rise of a degenerated anti-worker bureaucracy under Joseph Stalin. From that point on the war policy of the Soviet Union was subordinated to the defence of‘socialism [ie Stalinism] in one country’.

From Revolution to 'democratic' war

In the period after 1924 the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union refused to build United Fronts of all workers to fight fascism - this which further divided the working class, handing a victory to fascism in Italy in 1923, Germany in 1933 and Spain in 1938. After 1935 the Stalinist Comintern then threw all of its energy into forming popular fronts between the communist parties and ‘democratic’, ‘peace loving’, elements of the bourgeoisie who were apparently opposed to fascism. Instead of the Bolsheviks’ policy of civil, or class, war as the best way to fight fascism, this was a policy of civil, or class, peace. Revolutions were sacrificed to the defence of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union.

Communists allied with ‘socialists’ (Labour parties) alongside petty bourgeois and ‘democratic’ bosses’ parties to fight fascism. They were part of the Popular Front (cross-class) government that came to power in France in 1936, and politically supported the Republican government of Spain against Franco’s army. This Stalinist betrayal meant that workers had to forgo revolution and submit to bourgeois governments so that they were divided and defeated by fascism. Franco won in Spain. Hitler gained in strength and prepared to go on the rampage across Europe, into Russia and North Africa. The ultimate proof of the bankruptcy of this ‘peace loving’ policy was the sudden zig when Stalin did a deal with Hitler in 1939 in a desperate attempt to stop an invasion of the Soviet Union. Of course when Hitler broke this pact Stalin zagged back to a popular front policy.

Once again, most workers in New Zealand, and in every other country, put their hopes in ‘left’ parties that claimed to represent workers, or the people, against warlike bosses. From 1941 the communist parties sided with the ‘democratic’ bosses in the hope of defeating the ‘fascist’ bosses, and the result was a disaster for workers everywhere. Instead of rising up against all bosses to stop war, workers went to kill each other to defend the bosses’ ‘democracy’ (the right to rule the masses by means of parliament). Where workers attempted to rise up in revolution at the end of the war as in Italy, Greece and Czechoslovakia, they were weak and isolated, and despite their valiant sacrifices, were defeated. Only in the colonial countries were workers and peasants were more united against their colonial overlords did wars of liberation result in important victories.

Stalinists betray the colonial struggles

But even in the colonies, as in Europe, the betrayal of the ‘left’ saw Stalinist parties, allied to the old ‘socialist’ parties, rally to defend their bourgeoisies against workers and peasants revolutions. Yalta saw Stalin do a deal with Roosevelt and Churchill to divide the world into ‘spheres of interest’. Stalin got Eastern Europe as ‘buffer states’ to defend ‘socialism in one country’ and in exchange he ordered the communist parties to collaborate in the repression of workers’ revolutionary wars in Europe and the Far East.

In China, Korea, Cuba and Indochina, colonial wars were brought to an end, some much earlier than others, by organised peasants and workers armies with little or no help from Stalin. In fact in Indochina, national liberation was set back 30 years because the Stalinists collaborated with the French in the hope of gaining independence peacefully. The result was the massacre of thousands of Trotskyists and other revolutionaries and the French re-occupation of Indochina. In Algeria and in Nicaragua reactionary settlers or landlords were expelled by workers’ and peasants’ militias actively opposed by the Stalinist Communist Parties. In Algeria the French Communist Party sided with the French state in putting down the Algerian insurrection. In South Africa the Communist Party ‘conned’ the workers and peasants into stopping short on the road to national revolution and to ‘share power’ with the white ruling class.

In all of these cases, popular and working class wars of liberation were stalled, or reversed and in most cases defeated, because of the intervention, not only of imperialist ruling classes, but more significantly, of the ‘socialist’ or ‘communist’ parties. Where some of the historic gains of these wars of liberation remain (eg in Cuba, Vietnam and North Korea) it is because the national liberation struggles were forced to overthrow the national bourgeoisie when they openly sided with imperialism, and as yet imperialism has yet to impose decisive and historic defeats on these interrupted revolutions.

Back to the Future

What about the ‘anti-war’ Greens and Alliance-type parties today? These are parties based on the petty bourgeoisie or the labour aristocracy. They are run by a caste of labour bureaucrats. They do not even have the official support of organised labour. People like Keith Locke and Mike Treen do not want to make a revolution, they want to make a parliamentary career. They too sacrifice the interests of the working class to prop up capitalism so that they can represent the small business owners and managers, or serve the bourgeoisie as bureaucrats, politicians and flunkies, and reap their financial rewards.They are reformists who believe in their ability to manage capitalism and make a peaceful and democratic transition to socialism – so long as they are in the driving seat!But the bureaucrats have never been able to do anything other than drive the workers movement off the road.

Today the reformists’ hopes are pinned on the World Social Forum (see the article below) and in particular on the prospects of the Lula government in Brazil to challenge globalisation from below. Just like in the previous imperialist wars, the reformists of the WSF see themselves as the answer to the new imperialist ‘war on terror’. Theorists like Toni Negri present the WSF as a movement of the ‘multitude’ against the Empire. Negri argues, like Chomsky, that the US is a rogue state, which reverted to a more primitive imperialist international posture after S11 by declaring its right to ‘regime change’ by unilateral and pre-emptive military strike.Negri puts his hopes in the multilateral ‘rationality’ of the European Union ruling classes, and the ‘democratic’ fraction of the US ruling class, to constitute a world Empire in the guise of new multinational states like the EU, a revamped UN, giant transnational corporations, and a body of international law.

So like the Mensheviks of the First Imperialist war, and the Stalinists of the Second Imperialist war, today’s WSF reformists think that capitalism can be tamed by appealing to the self-interest of ‘democratic’ capitalists in all countries to join forces and act together to avoid war. This is just like Kautsky’s 1914 theory of ultra-imperialism. Kautsky said that capitalists should not go to war because they have investments spread across the hostile countries. War could end if the workers’ movement persuaded the bosses that war was bad for business.

What today’s post-imperialists overlook is the fact that the conflict between the EU and the US is not a slight reversal of ultra-imperialism caused by a rogue US state, but the reassertion of the inter-imperialist rivalry over the division of the world’s resources and markets. The only reason that the major EU states adopt multilateralism, trying to work through the UN, is that they do not have the military dominance to impose a unilateral line on the US.

To stop the betrayals of a new reformist WSF international, trapping workers in Popular Fronts with the ‘democratic’ bourgeoisie, revolutionaries have to urgently mobilise a new revolutionary International, based on the lessons of the Zimmerwald left of 1915 and the Trotskyist Fourth International in 1938. The CWG is currently engaged with 4 other tendencies in working on a joint document that calls for another Zimmerwald and a new revolutionary international to fight the renewed drive to imperialist war.

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