How Can Workers Fight Against the War?

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Workers Against the War (WAW) has posed an important question, "What can workers do about the war?" and offers a quick, ready answer. On their web site WAW says workers can stop the war in Iraq in a single day by refusing to move war materials: "If workers across the US decided to stop working until the war ended, it would only be a matter of days, if not hours, before the first soldiers were on the planes heading home." In itself this is debateable, since even at the height of the Russian revolution when workers were striking in many dockyards to stop arms being shipped to the white armies this did not stop the counter-revolutionary intervention. More to the point today, we need to ask concretely what it would mean for "workers across the US to decide to stop working"? In the abstract, it is true that a mass workers' movement could stop the war by paralyzing the economy, but for this to happen would mean that the American working class, or at least a substantial mass of the working class, was politically conscious of the meaning of the war, and had the organizational means (mass meetings, general assemblies, delegations, political organisation) to put its political consciousness into action. For the working class, as a class, specifically to aim to stop a capitalist war, is immediately to call into question the ruling class' right and ability to rule. We have seen this before: it happened between February and October 1917 and it was called "dual power".

Clearly, we are not in such a situation today. Whatever the disgust American workers feel for the war, the class as a whole is a long way from a political understanding that the war is the result of capitalism, that war can only be ended by doing away with capitalism, and that they, the workers, are the only ones who will be able to do away with it and put something else in its place. What is the alternative?

WAW proposes as a first step towards grinding the American war machine to a standstill, that workers should participate in a national sick-out, a "Sick of War Day" in which all workers opposed to the war should call in sick on Oct. 26, stay home from work, and use the time to prepare to participate in the national anti-war protests organized by United for Peace and Justice the following day, Saturday, Oct. 27. The goal of this proposal is to constitute a strong workers contingent in the anti-war movement. But is this really the best way forward - for the working class to dilute itself in an interclassist mass of pacifists, greens, religious groups, and leftists, and turn themselves into cannon fodder for the fraction of the US bourgeoisie which is using the population's disgust for war as its own weapon to win the upcoming presidential elections?

The workers' strength comes from collective, mass action. "Unity is strength": every worker knows that. But this strength in unity goes much further than merely a matter of numbers: when workers act together as a collective, the strength, the reflection of each one reinforces that of the others, the collective result is greater than the sum of the parts - and this is true for a truly mass revolutionary movement and for a demonstration in one town or even a small discussion circle. Anybody who has been involved in collective action knows the sense of exhilaration and increased strength and self-confidence that it brings.

The essence of the proposed "sick-out" is completely different: it is something individual. It is merely an individual substitute for the lack of mass action, it does nothing to bring workers together in such a way that they can develop their own collective strength; their sense of themselves as a class.

"What can workers do about the war?" is indeed a question that many workers are asking themselves, and to which revolutionaries have a responsibility to give answers that provide an orientation for our class. It's not really just a question of the war in Iraq. In fact, war has become a permanent characteristic of capitalist society since the beginning of the 20th century. In her "Speech to the Founding Congress of the KPD," Rosa Luxembourg said, "Matters have reached such a pitch that today mankind is faced with two alternatives: it may perish in barbarism, or it may find salvation in socialism." This assessment, made nearly ninety years ago, of the directions society may take has been dramatically confirmed by decades of ever more barbaric and horrific world wars and countless localized conflicts where the major imperialist powers confronted each other through proxies, civil wars, and imperialist clashes between secondary and even tertiary powers who confront each other in an increasingly chaotic international situation. The result is that utter destruction and desolation are a fact of life.

Today, the bourgeoisie's lies and ideological campaigns pressure us to accept the idea that war is inevitable because it's part of ‘human nature'. It paints a horrific picture of the ‘rogue state' of the day, the better to make us appreciate the brand of dictatorship it imposes on us locally. It fuels xenophobic feelings in the population, in the hope we get convinced of the necessity of war. Yet, despite clearly getting the ideological upper hand after the 9/11 attacks which the ruling class used to stir up war fever and chauvinism, the working class has shown clear signs that it is fed up and disgusted with the war in Iraq. These signs are evident in the number of active duty GI's speaking out against the war, the difficulty the bourgeoisie has to recruit for the war, and the growing opposition by working class parents to allowing military recruiters on high school grounds to manipulate and recruit their sons and daughters for the slaughter.

In this context it's important to assess the level of understanding of the situation by the class, its present strengths and weaknesses, and the balance of forces between the classes, so as to allow our class to push forward all the potential that is contained in the current situation, to assure the deepening and extension of class consciousness and clarification of what is at stake. In making this assessment we need to avoid any sense of triumphalism, or false optimism.

Although doubtlessly the workers are not defeated ideologically by the idea of the ‘necessity' for war, and their disgust for war is quite a step forward compared to what we saw at the start of the war in Iraq, we do not think it is accurate to suggest, as WAW seems to do, that the class is ready to ‘stop the war' and ‘create a system that serves our needs instead of the greed of a few.' In order to redefine itself as a class, understand the stakes and its own historic role, the class needs first and foremost to discuss collectively what is going on in the world, what the perspectives are, and what the class can do. The isolated ‘sick day' cannot accomplish any of this because it is an individual act that cannot substitute for the mass action and discussion, which the class needs.

So, what can workers do about war under the present conditions? Is there really nothing to be done? Yes, there is, but it needs to start from a clear appreciation of reality, not ‘taking our dreams for reality'.

In our view, the real question is, is there any chance of getting workers together to talk? To discuss about the war, what it means, to gain a broader view of the world and the workers' place in it, of their own political perspectives. This perhaps is something that can be organized, depending on local circumstances. It will not look spectacular, but if it is undertaken with perseverance and courage, it may bring more long-lasting results. Workers could hold meetings at work, or after work, and adopt resolutions or statements denouncing the war. Why not if that is possible? As long as it is the workers themselves that do it and not just a way of fueling the trades unions' pro-Democrat electoral bandwagon.

The unbearable weight of war is becoming a factor in the deepening of the class reflections on the future and how the class itself is positioned in its face, what its responsibilities are, who it is vis-à-vis capital, posing the real possibility for deepening the understanding in the working class that capitalism means war and offers humanity a bleak perspective of barbarism. This process of deep reflection can be aided through collective discussions, so that workers can finally see the link between capitalism and war, and organize for the ‘assault on the heavens.' Revolutionaries have the utmost responsibility to aid and facilitate the class' process of coming to consciousness and infuse in the class a sense of confidence.

Ana, 30 September 2007.

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