Germany: WSWS editorial board member participates in forum on Iraq war
17 May 2003
“What follows the attack on Iraq?” was the title of a meeting organised by the “Initiative against the Iraq war” held in the southern German city of Heilbronn on April 25. According to the organisers, the goal of the meeting was to discuss the tasks and perspectives of the anti-war movement.
The invited speakers were peace researcher Andreas Hauss, author and Junge Welt journalist Jürgen Elsässer, Klaus Hartmann of the German Free Thinkers Association and Peter Schwarz from the editorial board of the World Socialist Web Site. An audience of around 60 took part in the lively discussion.
Historian Dr. Alexander Bahar of the “Initiative against the Iraq war” delivered the introductory paper. He called the US-led war a “completely unprovoked attack on Iraq contrary to international law” and a “monstrous crime against humanity, against the Iraqi people and against the once sovereign state of Iraq.” He said that the protests of millions of people were ineffective because the US administration urgently needed this war to strengthen its rule. Not only had thousands of humans been slaughtered and mutilated and the infrastructure of Iraq reduced to ruins, but Iraqi culture had also been plundered.
“There is a method to this barbarism,” according to Bahar. “It is aimed at the destruction of a more than 6,000-years-old advanced culture, at the eradication of the past and at creating a collective amnesia, as in George Orwell’s novel 1984: ‘Whoever controls the past, controls the future; whoever controls the present, controls the past.’ ”
Bahar spoke about the role of the Security Council and pointed out that shortly before the outbreak of the war, UN Weapons Inspectors had systematically destroyed everything that remained with which Iraq could have defended its territory: “This is perhaps the greatest obscenity in a chapter of world history that is full of obscenities. The Security Council made common cause with the US, helping it to rob a sovereign state of its means of defence, making it possible for US imperialism to make off with the booty without risk.”
Speaking about the Social Democratic Party-Green Party government in Berlin, Bahar said, “Under massive pressure from the US, the Schröder government has broken international laws and the German constitution, indirectly supporting the war of aggression against Iraq. For the American war leadership, Germany became the most important hub for military logistics. The 25 largest US bases in Germany played a substantial role in the preparations for the war as well as during it.”
Finally, Bahar declared, “The war cries from Washington and the eruption of American militarism are not an indication of the strength of America, the most advanced capitalist state, but are an expression of its degeneration and decline. It is simultaneously an expression of the insoluble contradictions between social production and private appropriation, between the nation state and globalised economy. In its death agony, US imperialism threatens to plunge the entire world into an abyss of barbarism and war. This is the historical significance of the invasion of Iraq.
“Only the working people of Germany, of Europe, the world and above all the US—excluded from power and big money, those who suffer the results of this ruinous policy—can stop this development. This means, however, that they must become conscious of their own potential and must understand the connections and laws that govern this development, and above all the link between war, democratic decay and social devastation. And it means that they must organise independently of the corrupt establishment parties, organisations and institutions—internationally—and must expose and fight their opportunism and pragmatism. To contribute to this process, to cut through the lies and smoke screens of the politicians and the raucous and subtle media propaganda, that is our task.”“Keep Germany out of the war”
“It is simply a fact: the peace movement has collapsed, so rapidly and manifestly as can be seen in the attendance in this hall,” said peace researcher Andreas Hauss at the beginning of his contribution. He said that he was constantly hearing that the peace movement was on the verge of making a breakthrough. While that sounded good, he said, he disagreed. On February 15 in Berlin, some 500,000 had demonstrated; recently, only 5,000 had been on a peace demonstration. “The peace movement brought people together, but there has not been any continuity,” said Hauss.
His explanation for this decline and the conclusions he drew from it could only be inferred with difficulty from his long-winded, incoherent and disjointed contribution.
Hauss stressed repeatedly that we are in a war. “We are in the German-Iraq war,” he said, referring to the logistical significance that the US bases in Germany have for the Iraq war. “If we don’t begin to see that what is being done at the moment to Iraq is a question of our rights, and not only the rights of the Iraqi people; it concerns our right to peace, it is a matter of our constitution, it is a matter of our UN Charter, it is a matter of our right to live in peace that was broken.”
According to Hauss, the peace movement should not to try to discuss the internal conditions of Iran, Syria or other countries threatened by the US. “It should concentrate on what holds us together here. We are in Germany. We have our right to peace.”
A hymn of praise to the German constitution then ensued: “The most outstanding [constitution] that we ever had...We do not have anything else. We should hold on to what we have...One must take the constitution in hand and hit those people around the head who would take these rights away; if we do not do that, then we are guilty ourselves.”
Hauss did not say whether he attributes what he perceives as the collapse of the peace movement to failure of its participants to beat the government about the head with the constitution. He did not elucidate, but his remarks at least suggested this conclusion. He ended with a call to observe “our values,” regardless of whether these are based on “religion, morals or the law.”
Junge Welt journalist Jürgen Elsässer said he was largely in agreement with the previous speaker. He stressed, however, that the war was over. The Americans had won and this was demoralising. People had experienced their individual powerlessness. Ever fewer could be mobilised. “There will now be one war after another, and we will not be able to stop them,” he said.
The only thing one could do was to keep Germany out of the war. Germany should close the US bases and withdraw from NATO. But that would not stop the US. “The Americans would only be stopped if they lost the war; and they will only lose the war against Russia and China.”
To keep Germany and Europe out of the war, a fundamental change in economic policy was necessary, Elsässer said, because the German economy and the American economy are symbiotically interlinked. The German economy would be ruined if the US stopped buying German exports. For its part, the US depends on the supply of foreign capital from Europe, Japan and the Arab countries in order to cover its foreign trade deficit.
Elsässer pointed out that US indebtedness in comparison to economic performance was much greater than that of the former East Germany at the time of its collapse. And, “Why did East Germany collapse, and the USA continues energetically? Why do rich people lend money to the US, whereas no one lent money to East Germany? That is the mystery of the world economy and the mystery of the war. These rich people lend money to the US because in contrast to East Germany and all other debtor nations, the US has the singular ability to use its military supremacy at any time and everywhere in the world to force people at gun point to exchange worthless scraps of paper bearing the dollar sign for goods and products.”
Uncoupling Germany from the US war machine is only possible, he concluded, “if this form of economy is stopped and big capital, which relies upon this completely crazed orientation to the world market, is stopped.” He accused Chancellor Schröder of talking peace while at the same time strengthening export-oriented German capital through his anti-working class policies. Purchasing power must be increased in Germany. If the great mass of the population had more money in their pockets, more domestic goods would be bought, reducing the export dependence on the United States.
This is what Elsässer understands by a “fundamental change in economic policy.” In this regard, he sets his hopes on sections of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the trade unions, which in his opinion are conducting an “economic struggle against the Schröder government’s orientation to big capital.” “Nevertheless, a section of the trade unions around the IG Metall and a section of the SPD have their hearts in the right place.” he said. “They want to force Schröder on this point now.” He demanded that the peace movement link up with them.
Klaus Hartmann, chairman of the German Free Thinkers Association spoke after Elsässer. He described how, in his opinion, the experience of powerlessness and deep frustration of the last days had come about. The main problem consisted of the fact that the leaders of the peace movement had spread ambiguity and illusions. “They did not want to get the government into a scrape,” according to Hartmann.
It had also been wrong, at a time when Iraq directly faced attack by the US, to constantly call Saddam Hussein a “dictator.” In doing this, the peace movement had adapted to the brainwashing of the mass media. In a situation of immediate threat by US imperialism, it was necessary to take a clear position supporting the threatened country. Today, it was advisable to openly advocate friendship with the Syrian people.“Confrontation with US imperialism is inevitable”
The last speaker was Peter Schwarz, from the World Socialist Web Site editorial board and a leading member of the German Socialist Equality Party. He called the Iraq war a “historical turning point” and a “fracture in history,” and posed the question of its causes.
Schwarz cited the extremely reactionary character of the American administration, which is seriously underestimated in Europe. The Bush administration does not rest on a fascist mass movement; however, it is supported by elements similar to those that supported Hitler in the 1930s—right-wing politicians, the far right and elements in the bourgeoisie that have become immeasurably rich using criminal methods (like Enron). It embodies “the underworld in power.”
In the final analysis, the changes in the American elite can be traced back to fundamental changes in the structure of world capitalism going back to the 1970s. At that time, the bourgeoisie reacted to violent class war and a worldwide recession by going on the offensive against the workers’ movement, giving a new thrust to the international expansion of capitalist economy—through globalisation.
Globalisation undermined the nation state system upon which capitalism is historically based. Paradoxically, the first victims of the increasing contradictions between world economy and the nation state were the Soviet Union, East Germany and the other Eastern European states. The attempt to develop an isolated nationally directed economy—the substance of Stalinist policy—had to fail in view of the rapid expansion of the world economy.
The collapse of the Soviet Union had a great effect on the world situation, Schwarz continued. On the one hand, it unlocked areas in central Asia and Eastern Europe for penetration by capital. The ability of bourgeois nationalist regimes, like that of Saddam Hussein, to balance between the two superpowers and so protect their independence was over. And at the same time, the risk disappeared for the US that a war would mean nuclear confrontation and its own destruction.
The 1990s were marked by an entire series of wars: the first Gulf War, the Balkan War, the Afghanistan War and finally the second Gulf War. The question of oil, strategic interests and the reorganisation of the world in the interest of American imperialism played a central role in all these wars. At the same time, the nineties witnessed a stock market boom and the polarisation of society between rich and poor to an extent never before known.
“The layer upon which the Bush administration rests arose out of this boom,” Schwarz continued. “These are people who became immeasurably rich by criminal methods and who have today decided to defend this wealth. This is demonstrated by countless statistics. For example, the 13,000 richest families in the US possess just as much wealth as the bottom 20 million. That is an important factor in this war. The regime in Washington defends a level of social inequality that cannot be defended with democratic means in a normally functioning society.
“We are experiencing a deep crisis of world capitalism, which finds its sharpest expression in the country that is the strongest imperialist power since the 1920s. But it is a crisis of world capitalism, and one can only find an answer to it if one understands this link.”
Germany tried to reorganise Europe in 1914 and 1939; today, America must reorganise the entire world and subordinate it to the needs of American capitalism. “The fact that this system is bursting through the national borders can only be solved from the point of view of the American bourgeoisie by subjecting the entire world economy and world society to its will. The conditions that already prevail in America must be introduced everywhere: dismantling all social gains—capitalism in its most naked form. This cannot be reconciled with democracy or even a pretence of it.”
Schwarz then turned to the previous speaker’s argument that Germany can keep out of this development. “The belief that a country can disengage from the world economy was disproved 10 years ago in the Soviet Union and East Germany,” he said. It is not a matter of changing economic policy in the context of an individual country but of finding and developing a social force that can oppose American imperialism on a worldwide scale. “This consists of the working people of the US, just like the workers of Europe, the Middle East and the entire world. That must be the core of a strategy against this war.”
Schwarz then dealt with the claim that the peace movement had collapsed. “Perhaps this is the case if one regards it purely as a peace movement. But the movement that developed over the last weeks—particularly on February 15 and 16, when millions took to the streets worldwide in the largest international demonstration in world history—was not simply a peace movement, it was a social movement,” he said to loud applause. “Perhaps the participants did not understand all the connections, but they knew that the war was an expression of a fundamental crisis of society. The knowledge that a deep social crisis exists meant the movement could become so large.”
He continued, “If this movement today has decreased in size, then it is because it lacks a perspective; and because those who lead it want to reduce it to a pure peace movement, and cannot give it a perspective. Whoever believes that pacifist protest can stop Bush is completely wrong. A confrontation with American imperialism is inevitable. This is what we must prepare for.”
Naturally, this is a task that cannot be left to the European governments. The cowardly conduct of Chancellor Schröder and Foreign Minister Fischer has strengthened Bush. “They are unable to oppose US imperialism because they agree with Bush’s social programme,” he said. In the midst of the war, Schröder announced the sharpest attacks on social rights since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany after World War II.
Schwarz warned against relying on the trade unions or the SPD “left” in the fight against these attacks. These forces have since the days of Helmut Schmidt in the 1970s shared responsibility for social devastation. The task that we now confront, Schwarz said, is the development of an independent perspective for the mass movement that first showed its face on February 15. This perspective must be international and rely upon the working class. It must reject any compromise with US imperialism. It is necessary to break off relations with the old, degenerated workers’ organisations, which have proved themselves to be politically unviable.Constrained to what is “feasible”
Schwarz’ remarks were met with agreement and applause from a section of the audience.
One participant asked Juergen Elsässer how he conceived that by strengthening the purchasing power of the German population, German capital could disengage economically from American capital. The argument was not easy to understand.
Helmut Arens, a member of the Socialist Equality Party, declared that the anti-war movement could only develop into an influential mass movement if it succeeded in linking its goals with the social interests of the masses. It would be wrong to orient towards establishment politicians, who would become a hindrance as soon as it concerned the fundamental interests of working people. The movement must part company with the old parties, European governments and institutions, and must formulate its interests independently of them.
Arens then turned to the comments of Juergen Elsässer, who obviously regards the salvation of the peace movement in the SPD lefts and the trade unions. By constraining the goals to “what is feasible in Germany,” the most important task is lost (i.e., to challenge US imperialism alongside the American working class).
“Nothing but clichés,” commented Elsässer. “This constant chatter about revolution—and if possible, world revolution—is the best way to hold back everything. One achieves really revolutionary acts without great words.” He claimed that although Lenin and the Bolsheviks were ardent internationalists and representatives of world revolution, in the most radical historical act, the October Revolution, they had only concentrated on things that were close to home, such as. pulling Russia out of the war. They mobilized the masses with the simple demand for “bread, peace and land.” “They did not use great clichés or foreign words. This is how to make revolution,” Elsässer said.
Andreas Hauss said, “If we are discussing the connection between war, imperialism, capitalism and human rights questions, then we have only one, teensy problem: The mass of people who participated in the demonstrations on February 15 were, in all probability, not socialists.” The good thing is that it is possible today to galvanise people that one would not have thought could be—for example, the Christian Democrat Willy Wimmer or the Pope.
At this point there was some murmuring in the hall. One audience member interjected, “Then why not Gauweiler?,” recalling that the right-wing Bavarian politician had also expressed opposition to the Iraq war.
Peter Schwarz described Elsässer’s presentation of the October Revolution as a “poor caricature.” The October Revolution was not simply the result of a correct slogan. It cannot be understood without knowledge of the prehistory of the Bolshevik party, which was built through a lengthy process of clarification. Lenin defended the world revolution. The tragedy of the Soviet Union began when Stalin and the bureaucracy took power, rejected this perspective and murdered hundreds of thousands of communists who had fought for it.
Schwarz then turned to limiting questions of orientation and perspective to “actions” and “feasible goals.” “How is it possible to carry out correct actions if a correct perspective is missing?,” he asked. “Who determines what is ‘feasible’? I consider it more feasible to convince young people about a socialist perspective than to persuade Schröder and Fischer to close down the American bases.”
He said we are presently witnessing a process of differentiation in the mass movement, which of necessity had to change its character. No peace movement, even a purely anti-war movement, can prevent further wars. This requires an international movement of the working class against imperialism.