The War, the Anti-War Movement and the Task of Marxist-Leninists 

Marxist-Leninist Organizer

The first phase of the new imperialist war of aggression is ending. Taliban troops have withdrawn from almost all the major towns in Afghanistan, and the U.S. is busily orchestrating the formation of a new government that it hopes will faithfully defend its interests there. The U.S. has also begun to introduce ground troops – after a month and a half of continuous bombing and the fighting done by its clients in the Northern Alliance have reduced the likelihood of significant U.S. casualties.

But the war is far from over. Immediately after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, U.S. President Bush warned that this war would last 5 to 10 years or longer. He declared that this would be a war not only against terrorists, but against ‘states that harbour terrorists.’ U.S. Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz even spoke, in true fascist style, of ‘ending states’ that sponsor terrorism. Now Bush is again threatening Iraq, declaring unspecified consequences if it does not open itself completely to ‘inspections.’ He also threatened a long list of other countries, including Somalia, Iran, Syria, Sudan and even the Democratic Peoples Republic of (north) Korea. 

The ‘War Against Terrorism’ is a Lie

This was never a ‘war against terrorism.’ The U.S. attack on Afghanistan was a war by the most powerful country on earth against one of the poorest. This war has caused thousands of civilian casualties, as the U.S. has bombed schools, mosques, Red Cross facilities and wiped out entire villages. It has made use of cluster bombs, designed to kill and maim civilians, and depleted uranium, which will cause illness and death over the years to come. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced to flee their homes, and food could not be imported due to the U.S. attack, leading to mass hunger.

This war, despite the lying claims of the capitalist rulers and their servile press, is not to bring justice to the thousands of civilians killed in the World Trade Center. These civilians have become pawns twice over: first in their deaths and then in the way their deaths have been used by the U.S. government. They clearly chose their targets first and came up with their justification afterwards (they had been planning an attack on Afghanistan since at least last July – as Pakistan’s former foreign minister, Niaz Naik, recently said he was told by U.S. officials). The U.S. did not present any convincing evidence that the attacks of September 11 were the work of Osama bin Laden. They never even explained how they ‘identified’ the 19 alleged hijackers (unless they simply chose all those with Arab or Muslim-sounding names from the passenger manifests). If the U.S. had evidence against Osama bin Laden, it could have made it public and negotiated with the Taliban to have him tried in some other country. (The U.S. carried out such negotiations for over 10 years with Libya when it blamed two Libyan nationals in the crash of an airplane over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988. The trial led to one conviction and one acquittal). But the U.S. government completely rebuffed offers by the Taliban to negotiate about bin Laden. No, the U.S. needed this war.

Even if it turns out that bin Laden was involved, one must remember that he was supported and financed by U.S. imperialism to fight against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s. The CIA, in its largest operation ever, spent $6 billion to arm, train and supply the religious forces in Afghanistan. This shows that the U.S. has no permanent friends, just permanent interests.

The attacks of September 11, no matter who carried them out, were totally unjustified. Marxist-Leninists have always condemned individual terror against the ruling class and its representatives, as taking the struggle out of the hands of the working class masses and putting it into the hands of individual ‘heroes,’ usually from the petty bourgeoisie. But this act of mass terror was much worse. It led to the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. The majority of people who worked in the World Trade Center were clerical workers in the finance, insurance and real estate industry, as well as restaurant workers, building maintenance workers, workers in the construction trades, etc. Moreover, the attacks pushed many of the more backward elements among the working people into support of the U.S. rulers’ phony ‘war against terrorism’ – all they saw was that ‘we have all been attacked.’

There is no doubt that in many parts of the world people see fundamentalism and other non-Marxist trends as the major forces opposing imperialism. They see people who are willing to die for their cause in attacking imperialist targets. This is a consequence of the weakness of Marxism-Leninism, which is still in the process of regrouping from being undermined by revisionism. It is our duty as Marxist-Leninists to be the firmest fighters against imperialism, especially in the imperialist heartlands themselves.

There are some opportunist groups, both revisionists and Trotskyites, which condemn the U.S. war of aggression, but also feel the need to explicitly condemn the fundamentalists in Afghanistan. This is a form of imperialist chauvinism. It is only the Afghan people who have a right to determine the government of their country. Many fundamentalist groups, regardless of their social policies, are staunch fighters against imperialist aggression. Coincidentally it was regarding the same country that the great Marxist-Leninist leader Joseph Stalin pointed out in 1924: ‘The struggle that the Emir of Afghanistan is waging for the independence of Afghanistan is objectively a revolutionary struggle, despite the monarchist views of the Emir and his associates, for it weakens, disintegrates and undermines imperialism; whereas the struggle waged by such ‘desperate’ democrats and ‘socialists,’ ‘revolutionaries’ and republicans as… [Stalin here names various social-democrats] during the imperialist war was a reactionary struggle, for its result was the embellishment, the strengthening, the victory, of imperialism.’ (Foundations of Leninism, Chapter VI: ‘The National Question’)

Why Does U.S. Imperialism Need This War Now?

It is conceivable that the U.S. knew of the attacks and let them take place, as it has done with similar incidents in the past. In 1898, the U.S. blew up its own ship in Havana harbour as an excuse for its war with Spain under the slogan ‘Remember the Maine.’ This war led to the colonization of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, and the establishment of a protectorate over Cuba. In 1941, the U.S. ignored warnings of the planned Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour (see Robert D. Sinnett ‘Day of Deceit – The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor,’ 2000; New York), since U.S. imperialism needed an incident to declare war on Japan in order to preserve and expand its influence in the Pacific and in Asia. In 1964, the U.S. used the Gulf of Tonkin incident, a fake ‘attack’ on a U.S. warship, to begin bombing the Democratic Republic of (north) Vietnam and vastly increase the number of troops sent to fight in the south. Other imperialists have created similar incidents. The Nazis burned down the German Reichstag (parliament) immediately after coming to power in 1933 in an attempt to blame the Communists and justify their establishment of a fascist regime.

Oil and Strategic Position

Afghanistan is in an important position in the strategic area of Central Asia. It borders on three former Soviet republics (Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan). It is situated near the oil reserves of the Caspian Sea and the huge reserves of natural gas in Turkmenistan. It is on the route of proposed gas and oil pipelines from the former Central Asian republics through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. This route is important to the U.S. because it does not pass through either Russia or Iran. As the U.S. government’s Energy Information Administration report for September, 2001 (evidently written before the September 11 attacks), states: ‘Afghanistan’s significance from an energy standpoint stems from its geographical position as a potential transit route for oil and natural gas exports from Central Asia to the Arabian Sea.’

Control of oil and its transport is important for another reason. Europe does not generally have its own oil resources, with the exception of the North Sea oil controlled by Britain (and to a lesser extent Norway). Europe is overwhelmingly dependent on oil from the Middle East, where most of the governments of the oil producing countries are U.S. dependencies. Now there are newly available sources of oil in the Caucasus and Central Asia. These resources are a major reason for the U.S. to increase its influence in the region.

But this war is over more than just a pipeline. Ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies over a decade ago, the U.S. and its imperialist allies/competitors have seen these as areas ripe for imperialist exploitation. The U.S. encouraged the break-up of the former Soviet republics into ‘independent’ states, as it did with the states of former Yugoslavia. It has tried to gain control over the natural resources of this vast area, while denying this control to its competitors. The U.S. is also trying to prevent Russia from becoming a source of serious competition in the future together with others in Europe, China and elsewhere. 

Inter-Imperialist Contradictions 

The U.S., though it is the only superpower, faces serious competition from both the European Union (led by Germany) and from Japan. In some countries of Eastern Europe, Germany is the main imperialist power. This is true in Poland, where even under the revisionist regime, Polish agricultural workers worked as migrant labourers in Germany. Today in Kosova the main hard currency is the German Mark. Of the world’s 10 largest banks, the top 4 are Japanese and only 2 (Citigroup and Bank of America) are U.S. owned.

Even earlier, the U.S. was losing out to its competitors in export of goods and capital. While the U.S. was bogged down militarily in its war in Vietnam, Japan was increasing its investment in south Korea and other Asian ‘tigers,’ supplanting the role of the U.S. there. Lenin noted at the time of World War I that German trade with the British colonies was increasing at a faster rate than Britain’s trade with these colonies, indicating that German imperialism was ‘younger, stronger and better organized’ (see Imperialism, Chapter IX, ‘The Critique of Imperialism’). In the same way today, Europe and Japan are stronger than the U.S. economically and financially, though not militarily.

In the future, the U.S. may face the threat of an alliance between Western Europe and Russia that would be directed against it. When Russian President Putin spoke to the German Parliament shortly after the September 11 attacks, he made a very notable statement: ‘No one denies the great value of Europe’s relationship to the United States. But I am of the opinion that Europe will in the long run only strengthen its reputation as a powerful and independent centre of world politics, if its own potentialities are combined with Russia’s human, territorial and natural resources as well as with its economic, cultural and defence potential.’ (Quoted in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 27, 2001.)

It is of such shifting alliances that imperialist wars are made. Lenin pointed out that: ‘Interimperialist’ or ‘ultraimperialist’ alliances, no matter what form they may assume,… are inevitably nothing more than a ‘truce’ in periods between wars. Peaceful alliances prepare the ground for wars, and in their turn grow out of wars.’ (Imperialism, Chapter IX).

The U.S. has been using the war to assert its overwhelming military dominance. From the beginning it established a base in Uzbekistan with over 1,000 troops. It is now introducing ground troops into Afghanistan, and it has sent aircraft carriers and troop ships to various parts of the region. As the war expands, it will increase the stationing of its troops in other strategic areas, all the while trying as much as possible to avoid any significant losses in combat (it is still suffering from the ‘Vietnam syndrome’).

Unintended Consequences

It is this combination of contradictions, between imperialism and the oppressed countries and between the imperialist powers themselves that will lead to a major war. But this war is not likely to go the way the imperialists planned. The longer the war progresses, the more resistance will spread on a vast scale. The bombing of Afghanistan already led to strong reactions in the area. Mass demonstrations of tens of thousands of people took place in Pakistan, threatening the stability of the pro-U.S. military regime. There were other mass demonstrations from Palestine to the Philippines to Indonesia. If and when the war expands, resistance will undoubtedly increase as well.

Moreover, an expanded war is likely to lead to increased uprisings in vastly different parts of the world. It is quite possible that people in the oppressed countries, from Colombia to South Africa to the Philippines, will use the opportunity to step up their revolutionary struggle. U.S. military policy calls for its ability to fight two local wars at the same time, but this has never been tested, and as the war in Indochina showed, the U.S. was not able to suppress the armed peoples in one area despite direct intervention of half a million troops. Moreover, there is the likelihood of mass opposition in the imperialist countries, from increased strikes to the growth of the anti-globalization movement.

World War I was fought mainly in Europe to see which group of imperialist powers would maintain control of the colonies. This war will be fought mainly in the colonies and dependent countries, both to maintain imperialist domination and to determine which imperialist power bloc, the U.S. or others, has superiority.

Consequences of the War at Home

The attacks of September 11 and the war are having some serious consequences within the U.S., which can only intensify as the war spreads.

The most obvious of these have been the restrictions on democratic rights. First have been the attacks on immigrants. Already Congress has passed legislation allowing for detention without charges of any immigrant (including permanent residents). So far, over 1,100 people have been detained since the attacks. Only a few have actually been arrested; the majority have been held by the INS on charges of immigration violation, and some have been held as ‘material witnesses.’ The names of most of those detained have not even been made public. And Bush has declared an ‘extraordinary emergency’ establishing military tribunals to try non-citizens charged with terrorism. There has been a great expansion of racial profiling, particularly against Arabs and Muslims. Pilots have refused to fly with certain passengers from the Middle East just because they ‘looked suspicious.’

Further, there have been numerous cases of verbal and physical attacks, beatings and even killings of individuals with absolutely no connection to the attacks, just because they appeared to be Arabs or Muslims. The primary blame for this, of course, rests with the U.S. government and the lackey chauvinist bourgeois press, which have been constantly playing up fears of Arabs and Muslims.

Next, and crucial in the long run for revolutionaries and progressive people in general, are the new and forthcoming restrictions on democratic rights. Congress has already passed new laws vastly expanding the government’s authorization to use telephone wiretaps and surveillance of electronic mail. Of course, the political police have long had the ability to monitor calls and electronic messages, which we are sure they have used to the fullest extent. But the new legislation now gives them the legal right to use the information thus obtained in court. It is necessary for all revolutionary and progressive people to take the question of security much more seriously. This question has historically been downplayed in the U.S., mainly because of illusions about the nature of bourgeois democracy. Ways must be found to increase security without allowing the fears of government monitoring to restrict our political work (a reverse error that has been made by a few revolutionary groups).

The Increased Economic Crisis

Another consequence of the war, one which in the long run may be the most crucial, is the increasing economic crisis, particularly in the U.S. The U.S. economy was already heading for a downturn before the attacks, with companies announcing new layoffs every day. Since September 11, the crisis has deepened rapidly.

First, of course, has been the loss of jobs by those who worked in or near the World Trade Center and survived the attacks. These people number in the tens of thousands. Then come the people in the airlines, tourism and related industries – hotels, restaurants, Broadway shows, etc. There have been some 150,000 layoffs in the airline industry alone. Tens of thousands of people have been laid off in the airplane manufacturing industry, devastating the economy in cities such as Seattle, Washington and Wichita, Kansas. Some 100,000 people have lost their jobs in the New York area so far, and estimates are of more than 1 million jobs lost on a nationwide scale.

The capitalist government, of course, has done very little for these unemployed workers. This lack of aid is in sharp contrast to the handouts the government has been giving to the capitalists. Bush and Congress immediately gave $15 billion in aid to the airline industry; this money is being used to pay off their bank creditors, not to rehire any workers. Additional billions are being given to the owners of the World Trade Center and other buildings destroyed or damaged in the attacks. Bush’s request to people to ‘buy a share’ or eat in midtown restaurants to help restart the economy is an insult to workers who have lost the income they need for basic food, clothing and shelter.

Future consequences will be even worse. California Governor Gray Davis already proposed a 15% cut in social services. The federal government is looking at ways to loot Social Security funds for investment (something that President Bush was already trying to do before the attacks). And the labour unions are being encouraged (and the sold-out bureaucrats are volunteering) to use pension funds to bail out the government. (This was done during New York City’s financial crisis in the 1970s – much to the detriment of the municipal workers.)

It is these measures – billions in aid to the capitalists and severe cutbacks for the workers – that will most sharply undermine the government’s call for national unity – ‘United We Stand.’ It is the responsibility of all revolutionaries, and Marxist-Leninists in particular, to point this out in increasing agitation among the working class.

The Anti-War Movement and the Tasks of Marxist-Leninists

In the U.S., and in New York City in particular, an anti-war movement, or more accurately a peace movement, has sprung up since the first days after the September 11 attacks and the government’s war threats. The first march in New York City of several thousand people took place in the first week after the attack, breaking through the general climate of fear, particularly the fear of police repression under the guise of a state of emergency.

The movement in New York City has been divided into two coalitions: the New York Coalition for Peace and Justice, which led two mass demonstrations in the first months of the war, and the A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) group, which organized the anti-war protests in Washington DC in late September and one in New York City in late October.

This movement has a mass character, and it explicitly rejects the government’s call for ‘unity’ in support of aggression. However, the composition of the marches have been overwhelmingly Anglo (white) petty-bourgeois (‘middle class’), and their political character has been mainly pacifist and social-pacifist. Most of the signs and speeches, particularly at the New York Coalition for Peace and Justice events, have called for ‘peace’ in general, without clearly targeting the U.S. attack on Afghanistan as an aggressive, not to mention imperialist, war.

Lenin criticized this type of peace movement in his day, and pointed to the necessity of demonstrating the connection between imperialism and the monopolies. Without making this connection, it will be impossible to create a movement that is genuinely based in the working class, since the monopolies are the main enemy of the workers. Lenin stated: ‘… a petty-bourgeois-democratic opposition to imperialism arose in the beginning of the twentieth century in nearly all imperialist countries…. But while all this criticism shrank from recognizing the inseverable bond between imperialism and the trusts, and, therefore, while it shrank from joining the forces engendered by large-scale capitalism and its development – it remained a ‘pious wish.’ (Imperialism, Chapter IX.)

Neither group has done much work to mobilize workers, and particularly those from the oppressed nationalities (Blacks, Latino, Arabs, etc.). This weakness is serious for two reasons: the workers are the class in the U.S. that, through their position in production, can in the long run do the most to undermine the war, and they are the ones who will be most affected by the war. There is also a need for anti-war agitation specifically directed to young workers, who will be the cannon fodder for the U.S. military in a prolonged ground war.

A limited exception to the petty-bourgeois character of the coalitions is the forces involved in the New York Labor Against the War, a part of the New York Peace and Justice coalition. This group has circulated an anti-war petition, endorsed by some 9 heads of union Locals and several hundred union members in the New York area and is carrying out other anti-war work. However, even the majority of the petition endorsements have been by members of petty-bourgeois unions (teachers, social workers, lawyers, etc.) and mainly by activists working in the unions rather than ordinary rank-and-file members. We encourage those activists to reach out to the rank-and-file of their own and other unions.

To begin to change the character of the movement, the progressive activists must put out their own agitational literature emphasizing the class character of the war – that it is a war in the interests of the monopoly corporations and not of the workers. As the war drags on, it will be evident that it is against the day-to-day interests of the workers, as it leads to increased layoffs, attacks on workers’ standards of living and democratic rights. And again, special agitation must be produced aimed at soldiers and future soldiers.

It should not be difficult for a broad range of progressive forces to carry out the necessary work – both at workplaces and in working class communities. It takes a certain amount of organization, an understanding that the workers are the main force who have an interest in opposing the war, and the willingness to take on, in a non-sectarian and non-antagonistic way, arguments based on the current war frenzy and chauvinism built up by the bourgeoisie and its media.

Only by persistent, prolonged agitation in the working class can we slowly change the character of the peace movement into a class-based, genuinely anti-imperialist anti-war movement. We have a lot of work to do. Although our forces are still small, and though a prolonged war will cause much suffering, not just in the U.S. but on a world scale, we have many new opportunities ahead. Let us be worthy of the tasks before us. We have a world to win! 

December 1, 2001

Click here to return to the April 2002 index.