Workers League National Secretary David North delivered the following report to an aggregate meeting in Detroit on March 24, 1991 on the work of the eleventh plenum of the International Committee of the Fourth International. The report analyzed the political situation facing the international working class following the gulf war. The Workers League is the forerunner of the Socialist Equality Party in the United States.
Comrades, we have called this aggregate in order to report on the work of the Eleventh Plenum of the International Committee. This is the eleventh plenum since the split which took place in the International Committee in February 1986. The last meeting of the IC took place in May 1990. At that time, two central points were made. The first was that the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe marked the end of the postwar period and the political equilibrium which predominated for more than four decades. The second point was that among the most explosive elements in the international disequilibrium was the contradiction between the declining economic power of American imperialism, that is, the loss of its hegemonic position in the affairs of world capitalism, and its still massive military power. We warned that it was highly unlikely that the United States would quietly and graciously accept the loss of its predominant world position and accept a more equal, and, perhaps, inferior position in relation to its major economic rivals, particularly Germany and Japan.
Then, less than three months after the conclusion of the Tenth Plenum, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2 triggered the crisis in the Persian Gulf. Seizing the long-awaited opportunity—indeed, having done everything it could to prepare a trap for Saddam Hussein and provoke the crisis—the United States almost immediately ordered troops into Saudi Arabia and began its systematic preparation for the launching of war.
There was never any serious question that the Bush administration would accept any resolution of the crisis except one which gave it the opportunity to employ its military arsenal against Iraq.
Between January 16 and February 27 the United States conducted a war whose brutality finds comparison only in the campaigns of the Nazis. Not since the German fascists invaded Poland in September 1939 and Norway, Denmark, Holland and Belgium in the spring of 1940 has there been a war waged on such utterly unequal terms. In order to politically prepare and justify the slaughter that it was planning, the Bush administration and the Pentagon, in the months leading up to the outbreak of the bombing, conducted what amounted to psychological warfare against the American people. They led it to believe that the United States was up against a dangerous foe—the “world’s fourth largest army,” armed with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons—which had to be stopped before it could conquer the entire Persian Gulf region, the Middle East and, perhaps, the whole world. Saddam Hussein, Bush declared, was “Hitler revisited.” The New York Times and other bourgeois newspapers published lurid accounts of the “killing fields” being prepared by the Iraqis, suggesting that the Americans would suffer massive casualties in the event of a ground war.
Of course, the Bush administration and the Pentagon knew that a war against Iraq would be, as it was later described by an American pilot, a “turkey shoot.” While wildly exaggerating the actual size of the Iraqi forces stationed in Kuwait and southern Iraq and blatantly lying about the weapons which they had at their disposal, they knew that the Iraqis would be unable to mount any effective defense against massive aerial bombardment and that their army would be effectively destroyed as a fighting force long before the United States committed its ground forces. But, as a cover for the planned bloodbath, the United States employed the same propaganda tactics pioneered by the Israeli government in 1967, when the Zionists skillfully created the impression that it faced annihilation at the hands of “Arab aggression” when its own intelligence, and that of the CIA, projected a decisive Israeli victory over any combination of Arab states within just one week. Moreover, the tactics employed by the United States in setting a trap for Hussein are remarkably similar to those used by the Israelis in 1966-67 to goad Abdel Nasser into a war which he was desperately seeking to avoid and which he knew he could not win. In 1966-67, the Israelis, through the subtle use of various well-prepared provocations, virtually forced Nasser to send his army into the Sinai, where it was eventually destroyed. In 1989-90, the United States, through the use of financial pressure applied by its gulf state proxies, lured Saddam Hussein into Kuwait and then carried out the biggest double-cross since Al Capone sent his Chicago associates an invitation to a St. Valentine’s reunion. Perhaps we will some day have a chance to read the top-secret protocols of CIA-Mossad joint operations against Iraq.
The ground war ended nearly a month ago and the magnitude of the destruction wreaked by the United States is still not known. According to unofficial reports, the Pentagon estimates that 100,000 Iraqi soldiers died in the course of the American bombing. There is no doubt that a sizable percentage of the young male population of Iraq has been annihilated. On Friday, however, Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated that he was “not terribly interested” in establishing how many Iraqi soldiers were killed; that is, as far as the United States government is concerned, the Iraqi soldiers whose corpses were found in their bombed out trenches or strewn along the road between Kuwait City and Basra were sub-humans whose deaths do not even merit a statistical analysis.
The first objective pictures of the conditions which exist within Iraq itself are provided by a United Nations’ report from which I will read extracts:
Nothing that we had seen or read had quite prepared us for the particular form of devastation which has now befallen the country. The recent conflict has wrought near-apocalyptic results upon the infrastructure of what had been, until January 1991, a rather highly urbanized and mechanized society. Now, most means of modem life support have been destroyed or rendered tenuous. Iraq has, for some time to come, been relegated to a preindustrial age, but with all the disabilities of post-industrial dependency on an intensive use of energy and technology....
There is much less than the minimum fuel required to provide the energy needed for movement or transportation, irrigation or generation of power to pump water and sewage. For instance, emergency medical supplies can be moved to health centers only with extreme difficulty and, usually, major delay. Information regarding local needs is slow and sparse.
Most employees are simply unable to come to work. Both the authorities and the trade unions estimate that approximately 90 percent of industrial workers have been reduced to inactivity and will be deprived of income as of the end of March. Government departments have at present only marginal attendance....
While the mission was unable to gauge the precise quantities still held in government warehouses, all evidence indicates that flour is now at a critically low level, and that supplies of sugar, rice, tea, vegetable oil, powdered milk and pulses [legumes] are currently at critically low levels or have been exhausted. Distribution of powdered milk, for instance, is now reserved exclusively for sick children on medical prescription.
Livestock farming has been seriously affected by sanctions because many feed products were imported. The sole laboratory producing veterinary vaccines was destroyed during the conflict, as inspected by the mission. The authorities are no longer able to support livestock farmers in the combat of disease, as all stocks of vaccine were stated to have been destroyed in the same sequence of bombardments on this center, which was an FAO regional project....
This year’s grain harvest in June is seriously compromised for a number of reasons, including failure of irrigation/drainage (no power for pumps, lack of spare parts); lack of pesticides and fertilizers (previously imported), and lack of fuel and spare parts for the highly mechanized and fuel dependent harvesting machines. Should this harvest fail or be far below average, as is very likely barring a rapid change in the situation, widespread starvation conditions become a real possibility....
As regards sanitation, the two main concerns relate to garbage disposal and sewage treatment. In both cases, rapidly rising temperatures will soon accentuate an existing crisis. Heaps of garbage are spread in urban areas and collection is poor to nonexistent. The collection is hampered by lack of fuel, lack of maintenance and spare parts and lack of labor, because workers are unable to come to work. Incinerators are in general not working, for these same reasons, and for lack of electrical power. Insecticides, much needed as the weather becomes more torrid, are virtually out of stock because of sanctions and a lack of chemical supplies....
Iraqi rivers are heavily polluted with raw sewage, and water levels are unusually low. All sewage treatment and pumping plants have been brought to a virtual standstill by the lack of power supply and the lack of spare parts. Pools of sewage lie in the streets and villages. Health hazards will build in weeks to come....
As regards the displaced and the homeless, the authorities themselves have not yet been able to fully assess the impact of the recent hostilities. They have, however, calculated that approximately 9,000 homes were destroyed or damaged beyond repair during the hostilities, of which 2,500 were in Baghdad and 1,900 in Basra. This has created a new homeless potential total of 72,000 persons....
It is unmistakable that the Iraqi people may soon face a further imminent catastrophe, which could include epidemic and famine, if massive life-supporting needs are not rapidly met.
It can be said without exaggeration that in the space of little more than six weeks, the United States inflicted more damage to the economic and industrial infrastructure of Iraq than it inflicted on Japan and Germany over the space of nearly four years of war, including the impact of the nuclear bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Iraq is presently, for all intents and purposes, dysfunctional as an industrial society. It has virtually no economy. It has absolutely no means of rebuilding its economy. A blockade remains in effect and it is clear that this war has already assumed genocidal proportions. The conditions are such that, as the UN report itself makes clear, a sizable section of the population of Iraq can die within the coming months unless emergency measures are taken.
Having read this report which, as you know, is not being given a great deal of publicity in the American media, it is hard to speak of the “euphoria” which supposedly exists in the United States. At any rate, speaking politically, the present “euphoria” over the military success of Operation Desert Shield—to the extent that such elation is to be found among the bourgeoisie and the more ignorant sections of the middle class and layers of workers susceptible to the propaganda of the media—will not last long. First of all, however spectacular the success of Desert Shield appears, this war does not provide, on the basis of more considered examination, the stuff of which great traditions are made. This was a war which provided no serious test of either the American military or American society as a whole. One can say it is a reflection of capitalist society, but it certainly did not put the society to the test. To demonstrate its stamina, an army and a society must be able not only to inflict punishment, but also to absorb serious losses. But this was a victory based on little more than the ability to drop millions of tons of explosives on a defenseless victim. Such a victory provides no indication of how the United States would hold up against a foe that was able to answer bombing attacks in kind. What would be the social consequences, one might ask, of a war in which the technological and economic infrastructure of major American cities was seriously damaged? What would happen in New York, Detroit, Chicago, Miami or Los Angeles if these suffered a military attack which destroyed their electrical power, water supply and sewage disposal systems?
Even from a purely military standpoint, Desert Shield does not by any means prove the omnipotence of the United States. Future wars are unlikely to produce the same set of “ideal” circumstances provided by the desert environment and the complete geographical and political isolation of Iraq. Moreover, and even more important, the aftermath of the war starkly exposes the political and moral rot which underlies the criminal venture undertaken by the thug, and I use the work advisedly, in the White House. The “new world order” proclaimed by George Bush is remarkably devoid of any content beyond the will to destroy and dominate.
Even in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East, the war has produced consequences which the United States did not clearly foresee. As the Financial Times observes this weekend, “the politics of the Middle East has become more complex and unpredictable, the suffering of the people most intimately involved in the crisis has not been eased, and relief at the lifting of the longer-term threat posed by Mr. Saddam’s ambitions only very selectively felt.
“What should also become more apparent in the coming weeks is just how limited is the capacity of the war’s victors, essentially the US, to translate battlefield successes into durable political achievements. Although it may not have seemed so to President Bush, the easy part of the gulf crisis is over. Little wonder he is hesitating before making a firm commitment to visit the region.”
It is here that we come to the essential question raised in relation to perspectives by the International Committee in the course of the Eleventh Plenum: Has the war in the Persian Gulf contributed to the establishment of a new world political equilibrium, upon which a new and more viable foundation can be created for a new period of international capitalist expansion, comparable to that which developed out of the post-World War II settlement? Or is this war itself a manifestation of the on-going breakdown of the old post-World War II equilibrium? The answer is obvious: the war marked only a stage, and a relatively early one at that, in the downward and accelerating plunge of world capitalism toward catastrophe.
The post-World War II order, we should recall, was based not simply on phrases or even on the military power of the United States. It was the vast economic power of the United States that provided the foundations for the real institutions which guaranteed the survival and expansion of postwar capitalism: the Marshall Plan, the Bretton Woods system of dollar-gold convertibility and stable exchange rates, the International Monetary Fund, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and the World Bank. Without the ability of the United States to finance the postwar reconstruction of Europe, such military-political institutions as NATO would have been unviable and, indeed, meaningless.
However, in the immediate aftermath of the Persian Gulf war, Bush proclaimed that the United States would not spend a “dime” to rebuild Iraq—apparently forgetting that the main conclusion drawn by the bourgeoisie from the catastrophic post-World War I Versailles Treaty—which forced reparations on Germany—is that there is nothing more foolish and dangerous than the imposition of a “victor’s peace.” Moreover, in contrast to the carefully calculated financial largess of the United States at the end of World War II, the Bush administration is continuing its international shakedown operation, imposing upon its distraught allies the cost of the American war. The protection racket run by Bush is a far cry from the days of Roosevelt’s Lend-Lease, when the United States, proclaiming itself the “arsenal of democracy,” was able to offer easy credit to its allies, while footing a substantial part of the war bill itself.
The German bourgeoisie has told the United States that while it intends to fork over the payments demanded by the Bush administration, it would like to see some hard figures on the real costs of the war. Apparently, trust does not run very deep. Of course, it’s not the money, it’s the principle. Or, as is said in a recent movie about the Mafia, “It’s an important question of ethics.” Behind this unseemly haggling over money is the breakdown of the inter-imperialist alliances, based on common hostility to the USSR, which characterized the post-World War II period.
The Persian Gulf war marked, as we said last August, the beginning of a new division of the world by the imperialists; and while they are all agreed on the need to plunder and re-subjugate those areas of the world which were once their colonies, this is a process which cannot but lead to intensified conflicts between the Americans, Europeans and Japanese. Economic and technological developments have accelerated the breakup of the political-economic order created in the aftermath of World War II. There is an increasingly desperate struggle among the major imperialist powers for markets, raw materials and sources of cheap labor. The global integration of production has, as we’ve said many times, shattered the viability of any form of economic nationalism. The entire globe serves as the theater of operations for capitalist production and distribution. State borders offer no lasting protection against the pressure of international competition. The multinational conglomerates are able to survive only to the extent that they establish a dominant position not only in their home market, but in the world market. Whether through economic or political and military measures, the imperialists of each national state are increasingly compelled to strive for hegemony.
Thus, the bourgeoisie of the imperialist countries are driven to make inroads into each other’s traditional markets. For example, bilateral trade between Japan and Chile has doubled since 1983, and Japan is now Chile’s second largest trading partner. Japan occupies the same position in relation to Peru. However, the Japanese bourgeoisie now realizes that it cannot simply rely on its economic power in order to successfully challenge the global position of the United States or even to maintain the present position which it occupies in world capitalism. Listen to this commentary which appeared in a recent edition of the Japan Times. It wrote that the Persian Gulf war “reminded many older Japanese of the nightmarish experiences of World War II, especially the tragic air raids on Tokyo. Like prewar Japan, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq may have been ignorant of the United States’ dreadful strength.” It goes on to note that Bush’s efforts to build a “new world order” will affect US-Japan relations and then draws the following ominous conclusion: “As the sometimes bitter experience of the gulf war showed, Japan no longer is able to pursue a policy of one-country pacifism and prosperity.” That is, when in Rome do as the Romans. If you’re going to compete in the world economy and if there’s going to be an equal playing field, then you’re going to have to back up your technology and your industrial skills with military power. What they call pacifism is utterly unviable as a state policy.
The Persian Gulf war is also changing relations between Europe and America, and between the European states themselves. One of the most notable results of the war in the Persian Gulf has been the sudden discussion among the Europeans of the necessity of building an all-European military force independent of NATO. These discussions have been met with considerable trepidation by the US. Of course, within such an all-European force, Germany would play the decisive role. Within Western Europe the events in Eastern Europe have already played a very destabilizing role because these upheavals upset the old postwar European balance of power and called the entire framework of the anticipated 1992 economic unification into question. Indeed, one now hears virtually nothing of 1992. It has been entirely overtaken by events. The weight of Germany in European affairs was suddenly and vastly increased by the collapse of East Germany and the disintegration of the Stalinist regimes throughout Eastern Europe. This fact could not but have a profound effect on relations between Germany, France and Britain. Their historical antagonisms persist. Indeed, their much-vaunted “unity” is of an essentially negative character, based as it is on fear of American military might and Japanese economic domination.
As in the period prior to World War I, inter-imperialist relations are in a state of uneasy flux. Before 1914, and even before 1939, relations between virtually all the states, allies and opponents alike, were marked by agreements and disputes. It was not altogether clear who was with whom, and who was against whom. Only a few weeks before the outbreak of World War I, Germany and Britain successfully concluded protracted negotiations that resolved a number of serious disputes of long standing. And yet it was not very long, in fact, a few days, after that agreement was signed that Germany and Britain found themselves at war.
Now, as then, it is not entirely clear who will be fighting whom in the next inter-imperialist war. Nothing is certain except that the imperialists are headed toward war. The shifting and uncertain alliances are illustrated by the changes in the foreign policy of Britain. England participated in the war alongside the US to reestablish its position in the Middle East as well as in Europe. But the more Britain seeks to assert its world role, it comes up against its limitations: the US still blocks its way, as it has since the 1940s. Thus, in the immediate aftermath of war, the new British Prime Minister Major shifted British policy toward Germany. It is now clear that the removal of Thatcher in November was bound up with a debate that is raging within the British ruling class: should it align itself with Germany against the US—or should it align itself with the US against Germany and Japan? Neither prospect is inviting, because in both cases Britain can function only as the junior party. To the US, the British ruling class can offer little more than advice; to the Germans, it can offer only its old colonial connections and the faded prestige of its long-defunct empire.
As for Germany and Japan, the war has placed tremendous strains upon their relations with the United States, and exposed the dangers which arise from their inability to translate economic power into effective military and political action. Neither Japan nor Germany can tolerate a situation whereby their defeat in World War II determines their political role in the 21st century.
As we consider the deepening disequilibrium of world imperialism and the mounting antagonisms among the major imperialist powers, we must examine, if only briefly here, the implications of the events in Eastern Europe and the USSR. Eastern Europe is a cauldron in which all the unresolved rivalries, long suppressed, are now reemerging. The imperialists are manipulating different national cliques, whether it is in Czechoslovakia or in Yugoslavia, in Hungary or in Romania, in order to secure their own interests.
At the same time, as the Kremlin bureaucracy can no longer maintain the unity of the Soviet Union, imperialism is more and more openly asserting its right to assume control of the vast territories of the USSR. What an immense prize! The vast riches of the USSR in raw materials and its vast potential as a market cannot be ignored. The fate of the USSR, as well as that of Eastern Europe, is already assuming an ever more prominent place in the calculations and rivalries of the imperialists. Already, as for example in the conflict between Gorbachev and Yeltsin, the struggle of different imperialist groups asserts itself. To the extent that Germany directs the affairs of the Kremlin, the United States seeks to counteract that through Gorbachev’s political rivals and, more importantly, the national republics.
Therefore, if one surveys the world situation today, there is no reason to believe, in fact, there is no reason to seriously suggest that the Persian Gulf war ushered in a new period of international stability and equilibrium. Far from it. World relations are rapidly unraveling. The war in the Persian Gulf has only set the stage for more terrible and bloody wars, and it is on the basis of this analysis that we must consider the Persian Gulf war from the standpoint of the international working class.
The working class faces a historic crisis. If nothing else, the war in the Persian Gulf exposed the impotence and perfidy of all the old mass parties and mass organizations of the working class. In no country did any of these parties and organizations prove capable of mounting so much as a serious protest, let alone preventing war. In reality, the international workers movement, if one can even use that term, played no independent role at all. It either supported imperialism or adopted an essentially passive attitude.
Unless this situation is radically changed and transformed, the potential exists for a horrifying social catastrophe. Because left to themselves, that is, without the independent intervention of the working class, imperialist war cannot be prevented. Imperialism will plunge mankind into a war just as it did in 1914 and 1939. The military results of the Persian Gulf war make very clear that five or six years are not required to destroy a country. What was done to Iraq can be done to any other country, including the United States, in a matter of weeks. It’s simply a question of how much bombardment or, as they say, how much ordnance is dropped on cities and industrial complexes. To rely upon the good sense, let alone the good wishes, of the imperialists to block war is nothing short of political insanity. And to rely on any of the existing organizations of the working class, whether they be Stalinist, social democratic, reformist, or on any of those organizations which claim to represent the oppressed masses—to rely on such spent forces to prevent war is also political insanity. In fact, now more than ever, the essential truth of Marxist policy is established, that nothing can prevent war except the independent political mobilization of the working class on the basis of a revolutionary program.
As it reaffirmed this essential truth, the International Committee discussed at some length some of the more important features of this war and the lessons it must bring home to the working class. First of all—and this is quite crucial from the standpoint of the revolutionary orientation of our movement and the experiences through which the International Committee has passed—the Persian Gulf war has ended the “myth” of Vietnam—that imperialism could be defeated simply through military action apart from the independent political mobilization of the international working class on the basis of a revolutionary program.
We are not denying that in the future military activity will have its place. But imperialism can be defeated by military action only if such military action arises as part of the independent political mobilization of the working class. And, indeed, one must add—and this truth was muddied over by opportunism over the last 20 years, including the opportunism which arose within the International Committee—that even where military actions or guerrilla wars deal real blows to imperialism, such blows will not result in the overthrow of imperialism unless there exists a powerful revolutionary movement capable of taking advantage of the disorientation and confusion produced within the ranks of the imperialists by a military defeat. Indeed, it was precisely the absence of a revolutionary mass movement in Europe and in the US which gave the imperialists the time to carefully work through the political lessons of their defeat in Vietnam and to prepare what proved to be a horrifying revenge against the Iraqi people and the oppressed masses of the Middle East.
Moreover, it is quite clear that the shattering military defeat of Iraq was not only a question of inferior military technology. The military policies of Saddam Hussein were from the very beginning dictated by his limited and, I might add, reactionary bourgeois goals. As we said last August, the invasion of Kuwait was an opportunist annexation which had as its aim not the overthrow of the reactionary imperialist state system in the Middle East, but the improvement of the position of the Iraqi bourgeoisie within that state system. And if Saddam Hussein was susceptible to an American double cross, his entire policy facilitated that double cross and led him into the trap. The military methods employed by Hussein were from the start dictated by his desire to arrive at an accommodation with American imperialism even when it was clear that such an accommodation was not possible. According to all accounts that we have read, up until the very last moment Hussein continued to believe that the United States would not go to war or that he would be protected by either his friends in Europe or, for that matter, his so-called friends in the USSR.
The political isolation of the Iraqi regime was itself the outcome of the utterly reactionary capitulation of all the bourgeois nationalist regimes in that region to imperialism. And that capitulation, whether it was on the part of the Egyptians or, for that matter, the Iranians, is itself bound up with the economic transformations which we have discussed at some length. There no longer is a basis for any sort of national economic development. The subservient policies of the national bourgeoisie in the backward countries are the political consequence of definite economic policies. The local capitalists conceive of economic development as the transformation of selected cities and isolated outposts into free enterprise zones. These zones actually stifle the economic development of their countries. Indeed, even if the semblance of political independence is preserved, the national bourgeoisies are surrendering their countries to an even more brutal form of economic colonialism.
If, as we examine the world situation and the complete prostration of all the old organizations of the working class, we do not at this time discuss the policies of the Soviet bureaucracy at any length it’s because really they hardly require additional commentary. Today, anyone who believes that the Soviet Union constitutes some sort of factor in the struggle against imperialism must be classified a political illiterate. All the old organizations of the working class, all the old organizations which claim to speak in the name of the oppressed have proven their complete bankruptcy and complete political impotence.
Therefore, it falls to the International Committee to take the lead in the political mobilization of the working class against the catastrophe which threatens. In recognizing and assuming this responsibility, we do not claim to be mass parties. We certainly are not. Our sections do not at the present time lead decisive sections of the working class in a practical sense. But there does exist a new relationship between the International Committee and the working class which reflects the political transformation taking place within the workers movement on an international scale.
Prior to World War I, the weakness of the workers movement consisted in the fact that the opportunists, those who functioned objectively as agents of imperialism, still held the allegiance of the working class. Before World War II, masses of workers looked to the Stalinists and even to social democracy for leadership against the imperialist war. The Communist Party emerged out of the Second World War as a mass force in the international workers movement. Hundreds of thousands of workers in France, in Italy and even in the United States were politically oriented to the Stalinist movement. That is certainly not the case today. As I said, only political illiterates, those who have not heard a radio, seen a television or read a newspaper in the last five years, can still believe that the Soviet bureaucracy represents some sort of leadership in the struggle against imperialism. All over the world, Gorbachev is seen as little more than a direct agent of the Central Intelligence Agency. Workers all over the world understand very well that if they find themselves in a struggle against imperialism, they cannot look to the Soviet bureaucracy for support. And of course, the same attitude exists among workers toward the social democrats. We have just reported that in Australia the Second International placed its political imprimatur on the bloodbath carried out against the Iraqi people.
In one sense, it might appear that the working class is now completely disarmed politically. All its traditional organizations have gone over openly and unashamedly to imperialism. They do not even attempt any longer to invoke the class struggle as a guiding principle. If you accuse them of betraying the working class, of abandoning Marxist principles, of aligning themselves with imperialism, they would not even take that as an insult. They would say that’s precisely what they’re trying to do. And if they attempted to mount an argument, they would tell you that the class struggle is irrelevant and that it is ridiculous and utopian to base a political program on the revolutionary capacities of the working class. In fact, they don’t even accept that the working class exists—so completely have these political forces been integrated into the camp of imperialism. We might add that the bourgeois nationalists within their own milieu play a similar role. The Arab bourgeoisie no longer claims to fight for the unification of the Arab masses against imperialism. They follow the most narrow reactionary policies. There is no Nasser in the Middle East today. And if there was a Nasser, he would be doing exactly what Mubarak is doing.
Under these conditions then, the relationship of the IC to the working class is profoundly transformed. We are the only force which invokes the most fundamental principles of the international working class movement, of international socialism, in the struggle against imperialist war. And for that reason, the political struggle of the IC can in the next period attract the vanguard elements who will provide the political leaven for the rebuilding of a mass international revolutionary working class movement under the banner of the International Committee of Fourth International.
The entire activity of the IC has prepared us to assume this responsibility. The political struggle which we conducted in the course of the Persian Gulf war demonstrated that this tendency alone bases its struggle on the principles of revolutionary defeatism developed by Lenin and Trotsky in the period of the First and Second World Wars. Now, the essence of revolutionary defeatism is the fight to establish the political independence of the working class. Revolutionary defeatism is not any sort of radical phrasemongering. It is not running around shouting in a bankrupt, empty and really meaningless way for the military defeat of American imperialism. We don’t entrust to others the task which only the working class, armed with a revolutionary leadership, can achieve. That is, our conception of revolutionary defeatism is not fighting to the last Iraqi. It’s not standing as cheerleaders for the military forces of Saddam Hussein. It is, rather, aimed at politically organizing the working class to prosecute the class struggle despite war, to build up the political unity of the working class in opposition to the policies of the imperialists. And this is why all of our opponents are enraged by the initiative taken by the Workers League on the referendum.
What angers all these forces is the insistence which the International Committee places on the independent political mobilization of the working class. As I said, revolutionary defeatism is not a phrase. Trotsky insisted that the actual content of revolutionary defeatism is working through the class struggle for the defeat of your bourgeoisie, and not with methods imported from outside of the real development of the class struggle, whether it’s sabotage or other measures in isolation from the working class.
The Persian Gulf war does not express the strength of imperialism, but its tremendous crisis. Since George Bush became president, the United States has engaged in two wars within a short space of time, first in Panama, then in the Persian Gulf. Immediately after this war, Bush said, “Well, we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome.” This really calls up the image of a psychopath who slaughters his family and then when he’s arrested by the police, he says, “Well, at last I can sleep again.” In other words, the war itself is not a tribute to the health of imperialism, but to its deep crisis and it is a specific manifestation of the desperate crisis confronting American imperialism. In fact, the hysterical euphoria of the bourgeoisie in the aftermath of the war hardly testifies to the social stability and health of the United States.
Just the other day I had a discussion with a businessman who explained to me how important this war was from the standpoint of restoring confidence in the American system. He said, “Well, this war makes people feel good again.” I replied, “What makes one feel good is itself a matter of some importance.” All sorts of things can make people feel good, but if the United States needs a war in order to restore national morale, especially a war against a defenseless country, then the illness afflicting this society is far graver than anyone, apart from the members of this movement, has so far cared to say.
Prior to this war, it was quite clear that a whole series of deep-seated contradictions was coming to a head in this country: the social crisis, the economic crisis, the approach of recession on top of a massive edifice of debt which found its most serious expression in the S&L debacle. The crisis had even assumed a personal form within the family of George Bush, the implication of his son in one of the many scandals swirling around the S&L crisis. There is no doubt that one of the major considerations of the Bush administration in launching this war at this time was to distract public attention from this deepening social crisis, of trying to generate a war hysteria, with its attendant chauvinism to deflect the working class and to disrupt and cut across the development of the class struggle and class consciousness. For a period of several months, it succeeded in doing that. But now the war is over and the social crisis emerges in an even more extreme form.
In fact, the social crisis did not end. The fact that it was not reported in the media for eight months doesn’t mean that the social crisis did not exist. There is a reality beyond that which the American media is prepared to recognize. There is something more powerful than capitalist propaganda. Eight months after the initiation of this war crisis, the recession has taken root, the debt crisis intensifies, international capitalism itself is entering into a recession, Germany is being deeply shaken by the ongoing impact of the reunification, which is now, according to the head of the Bundesbank himself, proving to be a disaster. Under these conditions, there exists within the affairs of world capitalism the most unsettled state since the end of the Second World War. The Bush administration has no program to advance in terms of the social crisis except to propose ever more devastating cuts in social programs which have a direct and immediate effect on living conditions.
As you will recall prior to the war, the Workers League was conducting a campaign against the closing of schools and was taking an ever more active role, an independent role, in the political mobilization of the working class. Then came the war, and the necessary and inevitable turning of the party’s attention to the political and theoretical issues raised by this war in the fight to develop an independent class line. That found its highest expression in the referendum proposal.
If the policy we pursued in war is essentially a continuation of a policy we pursued in periods of peace, or so-called peace, the policies we pursued in the aftermath of the cease-fire remain essentially the same. Of course, we don’t continue with the tactical demand for a referendum now that the war is over. But the policy aimed at mobilizing the working class independently and placing the party in the leadership of that struggle continues, and must inform all aspects of the work of this movement. Now this is, of course, the task which confronts every section, and in doing this, we are developing our political work to attract and win the most advanced sections of the working class and developing this work in order to construct the Fourth International as the world party of socialist revolution. This is the essential perspective which we bring to the working class.