In response to the horrible war crime of 11 September, new and equally horrible war crimes are now being committed by the USA, which has come under direct attack for the first time in nearly two hundred years. Even before the first assaults were launched on an already ruined Afghanistan, tens of thousands of Afghan refugees were being condemned to death by starvation and disease. The death list will increase dramatically now the military strikes have begun.
We are being told that the coming war will be a war for the defence of democracy and civilisation against a network of Islamic fanatics led by bin Laden. But bin Laden and his breed, by deliberately setting out to slaughter as many civilians as possible, are only following the fine example already set by capitalist civilisation, which rules the entire planet today. For this civilisation, this mode of production, which has been in deep decay since the First World War, has already given us the terror bombing of London (the Blitz), of Dresden and Hamburg, of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of Vietnam and Cambodia; the majority of these slaughters were also carried out in the name of democracy and civilisation. In the last decade alone it has given us the massacres in Iraq and Kuwait, in Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro; in Algeria, Rwanda, the Congo, Chechnya and the Middle East. In every one of these horror-stories, it has above all been the civilian populations which have been held hostage, forced to flee, tortured, raped, bombed and herded into concentration camps. This is the civilisation we are being asked to defend - a civilisation which now lives in a state of permanent war, which is sinking deeper and deeper into its own decomposition, threatening the very survival of the human species.
The working class is the main victim of capitalist war
With the massacre of September 11 we have entered a new stage in global imperialist conflict, a stage in which war will become more permanent and more widespread than at any time since 1945. And as in all of capitalism’s wars, the working class and the poorest sections of society will be the main victims. In the Twin Towers, the majority of the dead were office workers, cleaners, firemen, in short, proletarians. In Afghanistan, it is the utterly dispossessed, press-ganged into the Taliban armies or fleeing for their lives from both the government and the US onslaught, who will pay the highest price.
And the working class is not only a victim in the flesh; it is also a victim in its consciousness. In the USA, the bourgeoisie is taking advantage of the legitimate outrage and disgust created by the terrorist attacks to stir up the worst forms of patriotic hysteria, to call for ‘national unity’, for solidarity between exploited and exploiters. Everywhere the Stars and Stripes is being used as a symbol of defiance against the bin Ladens of the world, tying the workers to the interests of the nation, and thus of the ruling class.
In Europe, we are being told that ‘we are all Americans now’, once again seeking to turn human sympathy for the dead into support for the new war drive. And if workers are not asked to take the side of civilisation against terrorism, they are asked to see bin Laden as a symbol of ‘resistance’ against oppression and to prepare for Holy War, as in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East, or among ‘Muslim’ populations in the central countries. In this version of the events, the ‘Americans got what they deserved’. This is yet another way of preventing workers from seeing their true class identity, which cuts across all national frontiers.
Throughout the world, the proletariat is being subjected to state terror in the name of the fight against terrorism. Not only the terror imposed by the climate of national chauvinism, but also by the very concrete measures of repression being set up throughout the world. The very real fear generated by the events in the USA provides the ruling class with the perfect climate to increase its whole system of police controls, identity checks, phone-tapping and other ‘security’ measures, a system that will in future be used not against terrorist suspects but against workers and revolutionaries fighting capitalism. The issue of identity cards in Britain and the USA is just the tip of this iceberg.
The answer to war is not pacifism but the class struggle
The ruling class knows that it needs the loyal support of the entire population, but above all of the working class, if it is to take its imperialist designs onto a new level. It knows that the only real obstacle to war is the working class, which produces the vast majority of social wealth, which is the first to die in capitalism’s wars. And this is precisely why the workers must reject any identification with any national interest. To struggle against the march towards war, they must revive and develop the struggle for their own class interests. The struggle against redundancies being demanded not only as a result of the recession but also as a consequence of the terrorist attacks. The struggle against sacrifices at work, imposed to strengthen the ailing national economy or the war effort. The struggle against repression justified by the hunt for terrorists and subversives. It is this struggle alone which can enable the workers to understand the need for international class solidarity with all the victims of capitalist crisis and devastation; it is this struggle which alone can open up the perspective of a new society free from exploitation and war.
The proletarian struggle has nothing in common with pacifism, as exemplified by the new Coalition to Stop the War that has been set up in Britain by CND, the Trotskyists and others. The pacifists make their appeal to the UN and to international law; the proletarian struggle can only expand if it breaks the barriers of the law. Already in the most ‘democratic’ countries, any effective forms of struggle (such as mass or secondary pickets, decision-making by general assemblies rather than union ballots, etc) have, with the assistance of the trade unions, become illegal. The outlawing of the class struggle will become even more explicit in a period dominated by war.
The pacifists also make their appeal to ‘all decent minded people’, to an alliance of all classes opposed to the positions of Blair and Bush. But this is yet another way of drowning the workers in the population at large, at precisely the time when the number one problem for the working class is to rediscover its distinct social - and political - identity.
Above all, pacifism has never opposed the national interest, which in the epoch of imperialism can only be defended by the means of imperialism. This goes not only for the ‘respectable’ pacifists like Bruce Kent, but also for pacifism’s ‘radical’ wing, the leftists, who always seek to get the workers to ‘defend’ one nationalism or another. In the Gulf war, they defended Iraq; in the Balkans war they argued about whether to support Serbia or the Kosovo Liberation Army (and thus NATO); today they are scrabbling around to find some ‘anti-imperialist’ faction to support, if not bin Laden and the Taliban, then the ‘Palestinian Resistance’ whose ideas and methods are exactly the same.
Far from opposing war, pacifism is a necessary adjunct to the military coalition of the bourgeoisie, a way of delaying and diverting an authentic class consciousness about the meaning of war in this society. Humanity is not faced with the alternatives of war and peace. It is faced with the alternatives of imperialist war and the class war, of barbarism and the communist revolution. This was the alternative announced by Lenin and Luxemburg in 1914, and answered by the strikes, mutinies and revolutions which brought an end to the first imperialist world war. After almost a hundred years of capitalist decadence and self-destruction, that alternative stands before us with even sharper clarity.