The emergence of the monumental tide of anti-war protest in the US is a striking answer to the cynics who have argued that American workers will never struggle to change society because they are too well-off, consumerist, or backwards. It puts in the shade all the pessimistic theories that a powerful anti-war movement could not be built because of the lack of a draft, corporate control of the media, the tidal wave of nationalism after 9/11, etc. It also shows how rapidly a mass movement can be built by events.
Unlike many on the left, Socialist Alternative argued that, while Bush would receive a boost of public support after 9/11, his support would rapidly fall at a certain stage, and a powerful anti-war movement could rapidly develop.
Bush’s sky high approval ratings after 9/11 has evaporated in only 17 months, now back down to pre-9/11 levels with 54% supporting him and 38% opposing him. According to the NY Times poll, support for a war on Iraq has fallen from 74% one year ago to 66% with opposition growing from 18% to 29%. But if asked about a war with substantial casualties among US troops or Iraqi civilians, public opinion is evenly split right down the middle. 56% of the population opposes a US war without UN approval. A massive 78% think US oil interests are not a good enough reason for war! (NY Times/CBS poll, 2/12/03)
The large size of the anti-war movement is based on a series of factors. The instinctual opposition of large sections of workers and young people to foreign military adventures which risk heavy US casualties’ remains a legacy from the mass protests against the Vietnam War. To this is added an awareness of the consequences of a war on Iraq, particularly the possibility of provoking more terrorist attacks. 59% believe a war will increase the threat of terrorism. (NY Times/CBS poll, 2/12/03)
Beneath the surface lies a deep-seated anger about the worsening living conditions working people have suffered over the past 30 years and the recent layoffs, corporate scandals, and budget cutbacks. Alongside this exists a growing distrust of capitalist institutions, the politicians and their official rationale for war.
All these accumulated grievances are coalescing into a growing mood of opposition to the Bush Administration who stole the 2000 elections and is aggressively pushing right-wing economic and social policies that the majority of Americans oppose.
The ferocious debate and divisions within the US ruling class and the ruling classes of other countries over Bush’s reckless war plans also encouraged millions of ordinary people to question the war.
Bush and his war drive may experience an initial boost of public support when the war begins as the media whip up another a wave of nationalism or in the event of another terrorist attack. However, this boost would not last forever as the effects of the war hit home and as workers’ economic position worsens in the stagnating economy.
Democrats and the UN Won’t Stop the War
One of the strongest props Bush can lean on is the lack of an attractive alternative political party. The Democrats have been ineffectual in opposing either Bush’s foreign or domestic agenda, much less articulating a credible alternative set of policies. While sections of the Democratic Party, and their big business backers, are extremely worried about the consequences of Bush’s Iraqi adventure, they have refused to seriously oppose it. The cowardly Democrats are terrified of paying an electoral price for opposing the a war on Iraq and provoking a political crisis for the capitalist system that such a stand would provoke.
Approximately half the Democrats in Congress voted to authorize Bush to wage war on Iraq. Even those Democrats who voted against Bush’s resolutions suggested amendments that would have required Bush to get other countries and the UN on board and use UN weapons inspectors before going to war. This is not an anti-war stance.
If the Democrats were truly against the war, they wouldn’t just show up to speak at anti-war rallies. They would use their high profile and access to the media to actively help build a powerful mass movement in the streets, and they would publicly and boldly challenge Bush’s lies about this war. Instead they channel the movement off the streets into the safe, controllable channels.
The anti-war movement needs to rely on our ability to mobilize millions into the streets. But we also need to draw together anti-war protesters, trade unionists and all those who are opposed to the two parties of big business to launch a new party that could represent the millions rather than the millionaires.
A large section of the movement’s leaders are promoting the illusion that the UN can stop the war. However, France, Russia, China and other powers in the UN may end up going along with the war so that they do not get cut out of the oil spoils of war. The UN supported the bloody 1991 US war on Iraq and the sanctions that have killed a million Iraqis. If the US is able to bully or bribe France, Russia or China not to veto the war, a big portion of the anti-war movement will be disoriented and demoralized.
Build a Mass Anti-War Movement
Although the anti-war movement in the US has developed by leaps and bounds in only a few months, it remains a minority in US society, though very sizable and politically significant. The majority of Americans have doubts about this war, but are not yet firmly opposed to it.
As workers see the results of the war, and the economy worsens, opposition to the war and Bush’s domestic agenda will mount. The anti-war movement should aim to express this sentiment through conscious political action – meetings, mass protests, student walk-outs, and preparing the ground for massive, well organized, civil disobedience and workers’ strikes. At this stage, the main task for the anti-war movement is still to convince the majority of workers to oppose the war by consistent explanation which exposes the real motives behind the war.
The key to stopping the war is not by focusing on moral or spiritual arguments, but by linking the war to workers’ everyday struggles against things like low-paying jobs, economic insecurity, and racism. The anti-war movement needs to point out that the military budget is being increased to over $400 billion for wars that benefit US oil corporations, while politicians will try to pay for the war by raiding the budgets for education, healthcare, and Social Security.
Anti-war activists can point to the November elections to show how Bush is using the “war on terrorism” as a weapon of mass distraction to divert attention from corporate scandals, layoffs, tax cuts for the rich, racial profiling of immigrants and restrictions of our democratic rights.
The anti-war movement needs to counter the Bush Administration’s argument that this war will reduce terrorism, when it will actually only fan the flames of hatred and desperation among the Arab masses. When the media criticizes protesters for not supporting our troops, we should respond that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home.
Hundreds of union locals have already passed anti-war resolutions as well as several national unions. At most colleges and universities, in high schools and neighborhoods, anti-war groups have sprouted up. We need to continue building anti-war committees in every school, workplace, union and community. Uniting representatives from all the anti-war groups on a national level would also help coordinate actions enormously.
We also need to build a strong socialist wing of the anti-war movement to advocate for these effective policies, strategies and tactics and tackle the root cause of war – capitalism’s unceasing competition for profits and power.
Justice #33, February 2003