On August 30, 1990, the Workers League convened a Special National Congress to define its attitude to the threat of imperialist war in the Persian Gulf and to elaborate its socialist antiwar political program. The special congress opened with a political report delivered by National Secretary David North, which is published below. The Congress concluded with the unanimous adoption of a resolution, “Workers Must Oppose Gulf War.”
This Special Congress of the Workers League is being held in the midst of a crisis that clearly marks a crucial political turning point in the affairs of world imperialism and the international class struggle. The purpose of this congress is to define the attitude of the Workers League to the events in the Persian Gulf, critically review the perspectives of the Workers League and the International Committee of the Fourth International in the light of the most recent developments, and, on this basis, specify the tasks which now confront the party as the political vanguard of the working class.
First of all, let us briefly review the events which have taken place during the course of this month. It is crucial that we understand the political significance of these developments, for the situation in the Persian Gulf—like every great international crisis—has, as Trotsky once noted, “its positive side, in that it puts to a test all the various traditional values and formulas, laying bare the rottenness of those that served to mask ‘peacetime’ contradictions” (Writings of Leon Trotsky (1938-39) [New York: Pathfinder Press, p.52]).
The “traditional values and formulas” of the postwar epoch were grounded on two monstrous falsehoods which served to retard the development of revolutionary consciousness in the working class. The first was that Stalinism represented socialism and the second was that imperialism was perpetually compatible with peace and democracy. The first of these illusions was shattered by the events of the autumn of 1989. The second is now being destroyed by the still-unfolding events of the summer of 1990.
Iraqi troops invaded Kuwait on August 2. Within a few days, the United States began transforming Saudi Arabia into a staging ground for a massive military armada. The speed of the military buildup is without any precedent; and—except for, at least to this point, the absence of the draft—involves a mobilization of air, sea and land forces of world war dimensions. It is a fact of enormous political significance that the United States has been brought to the brink of a major war as the result of decisions taken by a handful of people working, apparently, without any constitutional restraints upon them. Even from the standpoint of the formal precepts of bourgeois democracy, the way in which this mobilization has been carried out makes a sham of the pretense that this is some sort of democratic country where the government represents the interests and will of the people. Allow me to quote the New York Times of August 19:
In only 15 days while Congress was scattered on summer recess and much of official Washington was on vacation, senior officials in the Bush administration have committed the United States to its broadest and most hazardous military adventure since the Vietnam war.... The administration has been reluctant to disclose the full extent of its military commitment, the Pentagon officials are declining to tote up exactly how much armor or how many troops it is sending or intends to send, or to say how long it expects they will be there or to make public assessments of the short- or long-term risks to American personnel or prestige.... How long the forces will be in place at worst is something the Bush administration has deliberately kept vague....
The decision which put in motion the most rapid military buildup in American history was effectively made by President Bush and a small circle of advisers in a weekend at Camp David shortly after Iraq invaded Kuwait on August 2. Most congressional leaders were informed of the operation after it was ordered. Only one influential lawmaker, chairman Sam Nunn, the Georgian who is chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, appears to have been consulted in advance. So far no member of Congress has proposed hearings to discuss the ramifications of the actions. In keeping with Mr. Bush’s demonstrated penchant for making decisions in secret, some officials said the White House has kept Congress, citizens and foreign leaders alike in the dark about the ultimate scope of its operations. The pivotal decisions have been made by Mr. Bush and a handful of his top advisers, including the National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, Secretary of State James Baker and the Army General Colin Powell, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As you know, Mr. Bush was once the director of the Central Intelligence Agency and it’s fair to say that the United States government has now been converted into a massive covert operation. The coverage of military operations in the gulf is limited by a degree of censorship—which the bourgeois press has not attempted to challenge—that goes beyond anything that existed even during World War II. Decisions have been made which could cost the lives of tens and even hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and Arabs and thousands and perhaps tens of thousands of American youth. But absolutely nothing has been said to the American people about the implications of these decisions or what the decisions actually are.
Bush, in between tours of the golf course and joy rides on his speed boat, pontificates about resisting aggression and defending small nations. These hypocritical platitudes come from a regime which only seven months before invaded tiny Panama, killed thousands of defenseless civilians, reduced large portions of the country’s capital to rubble, ousted its government, arrested and imprisoned its president and installed its own stooge regime.
The war which is being threatened by the United States against Iraq is a war of an imperialist bandit against a poor and historically oppressed country. The Bush administration is preparing a war of plunder, aimed at securing control over the crucial oil reserves of the Middle East and, on that basis, strengthening its position in the affairs of world imperialism. Were the United States to win this war, it would mean the brutal subjugation of Iraq and potentially the entire Arab region to a form of colonial exploitation even more brutal than that which existed in the pre-World War I heyday of imperialism.
While the United States is acting as the military spearhead of the attack, Iraq is confronting a coordinated assault by every imperialist power on the planet. In this sordid operation, the “United Nations” has proved itself to be nothing more than an imperialist brothel, whose delegates—including those of the Soviet Union and China—are nothing more than political pimps employed to obtain satisfaction for the needs of the world bourgeoisie. This international imperialist gang-up against Iraq is an expression of the historical essence of the Persian Gulf crisis. It marks the beginning of a new imperialist redivision of the world. The end of the postwar era means the end of the postcolonial era as well. As it proclaims the “failure of socialism,” the imperialist bourgeoisie is, in deeds if not yet in words, proclaiming the “failure of independence” as well. The deepening crisis confronting all the major imperialist powers compels them to secure control over strategic resources and markets. Former colonies which had achieved a degree of political independence must be re-subjugated. In its brutal assault against Iraq, imperialism is giving notice that it intends to restore the type of unrestrained domination of the backward countries that existed prior to World War II.
Despite their misgivings over America’s rapid military deployment, its uncertain aims and unpredictable consequences, the cynical imperialist strategists of the “Old World” welcome the opportunity which Bush has provided to restore colonial-style domination. The American intervention is perceived as the beginning of a new repartitioning of the globe. That is why every imperialist state is so anxious to participate in the modern-day crusade against the Iraqi infidel. Even the flabbiest old scoundrels are pulling in their potbellies and attempting to suit up in imperial uniforms which circumstances had obliged them to consign to the storage closet for decades. The Spanish bourgeoisie, wondering if perhaps Morocco and Sierra Leone might once again wind up on the auction block, informs the world that it is once again ready for imperialist exploits by announcing the dispatch of a few ships to the gulf. The Belgian ruling class, which has never reconciled itself to the loss of the Congo, also has announced its desire to participate in the enforcement of the blockade. The Dutch imperialists, who not long ago terrorized tens of millions of Indonesians, are also eager to stand fast against “aggression” in the gulf. Even Switzerland, in the first significant change in its foreign policy in about 500 years, has renounced “neutrality” in order to hang on to the Kuwaiti gold deposited in the vaults of its banks. Of far greater significance for the future course of events is the decision of Germany and Japan to participate in the imperialist campaign against Iraq. Both countries have seized the opportunity to announce that they will revise the postwar constitutions which have until now prohibited the dispatch of troops beyond their borders.
All the major imperialist states and even the bourgeois regimes in the backward and dependent countries do not wish to be left behind in the new rush for spheres of influence. Each national bourgeoisie intends to review and reintroduce territorial claims which one might have thought had been relegated to the diplomatic archives. The Turkish president offered this interesting explanation for the speed with which he acceded to America’s request that he cut off the Iraqi oil pipeline that passes through his country. Mr. Ozal said that Turkey does not want to be left out of a future “peace conference” that might be convened to redraw the borders of Iraq in the aftermath of war!
While Ozal in Turkey and Assad in Syria may be content to munch on the morsels of Iraqi territory that the Americans, in the event of a successful war, might be prepared to throw their way, the big imperialist powers have voracious appetites far bigger than even that of the hefty Mr. Ozal that cannot be satisfied so easily.
The Germans and the Japanese cannot be certain that the American forces now deployed against Iraq might not in the future be used against them. It cannot but cause the Germans and Japanese disquiet when they ponder that the American occupation of the Persian Gulf will place their oil lifeline in the hands of their most dangerous economic rival. In the last war, it was precisely the lack of oil reserves which doomed the Axis to defeat. It is impossible to believe that the German and Japanese bourgeoisie have not pondered this bitter lesson and drawn certain conclusions. If war should come again, the same fate must be avoided. How long can it be before the German and Japanese imperialists begin to create the military forces they require to secure their strategic interests. Germany may agree to recognize, for the time being, American hegemony in the Persian Gulf. But in return it will expect, and at some point even demand, US recognition of German interests in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union (e.g., oil in Romania and Baku) and North Africa. Japan, for its part, may decide that it is necessary to demand a “free hand” in China and East Asia, not to mention Eastern Siberia.
Thus, even as the imperialists put on a display of anti-Iraqi solidarity, the ground is being prepared for the future struggle between them. In fact, although the immediate object of US aggression is Iraq, there can be no doubt that the actions of the Bush administration are quite consciously aimed at strengthening the position of the American bourgeoisie in the ongoing and ever more bitter struggle with its imperialist rivals. So great is the economic significance of Persian Gulf oil that control over this region must have a profound influence on the global balance of power. Eight countries in the Persian Gulf region—Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman—are the source of more than half of the world’s proven oil reserves. Intensive exploration aimed at discovering new sources of oil have failed to identify regions that could displace or even seriously challenge the gulf as the world’s major supplier. According to a report by the US Geological Survey:
learly discoveries are on a downward trend from a high in the 1950s of some 35 billion barrels per year to a present day total of 10-15 billion barrels of new oil per year. Production of about 20 billion barrels per day has now out-paced discovery by a factor of two. The reality is... that the Middle East increasingly will monopolize world petroleum supplies ... most of the world’s conventional oil resources lie within the narrow confines of the Middle East and so does the production capacity. The economies of the western world rest on the daily production from the Middle East and indeed even the amount of oil transiting the Straits of Hormuz daily, some 7 to 8 billion is about two times the surplus producing capacity found outside the Middle East. (Anthony H. Cordesman, The Gulf and the West: Strategic Relations and Military Realities [Westview Press], p. 23)
Much has been made of the fact that the United States consumes far less Persian Gulf oil than Japan and Western Europe, and it is thereby suggested that the Bush administration is acting to defend world, rather than purely national interests. It is, of course true, that the United States imports less than 10 percent of its oil from the gulf, while Western Europe imports about 25 percent and Japan, about 60 percent. However, these figures do not give a true picture of problems that are anticipated by oil industry analysts. It is now widely expected that the so-called oil glut which kept oil prices depressed throughout the 1980s will have dissipated by the mid-1990s (and these projections predate the present crisis). As consumption begins to outstrip production, the price picture will change and, as one oil analyst warned, “the U.S. would have to compete with other importing nations on the world market. Even if it used its Strategic Petroleum Reserve, the US might still face another massive price crisis” (Ibid., p.26).
Aside from oil, the gulf region has already become an area of growing trade and general economic competition between the United States and Japan. During the past 20 years, the United States has seen its once dominant position in Saudi Arabia steadily undermined. “Whereas the United States once overwhelmingly dominated Saudi markets,” two Persian Gulf specialists wrote recently, “and the US Army Corps of Engineers and US companies dominated Saudi construction, the construction business has now largely been forfeited to Japanese, Korean, other Asian, and some European companies. (These, in turn, increasingly all rely on low-cost labor from Southeast and South Asia.) Today, the United States and Japan are roughly neck-and-neck in the Saudi market, in which both are most heavily involved....
“As trade becomes a major issue of contention between the US and Japanese governments (and as economic power increasingly supplants military power as the determinant of world influence), competition for market share in the wealthier non-Western markets could become a key issue. At the moment, both the United States and Japan seem to be focusing mainly on bilateral issues, but competition in third markets is a possible future irritant.... Japan has not, so far, attempted a full-court press in the gulf market, but given the fact that the gulf is one region with which Japan runs a trade deficit, can such a campaign be ruled out in the future?” (Michael Collins Dunn and Julia Ackerman, American-Arab Affairs, Spring 1990, pp. 40-41).
Only political simpletons who have faith in the altruism of American imperialism will believe that the Bush administration’s actions in the Persian Gulf are unrelated to such longer range economic considerations. Confronted with a steady deterioration in its competitive world position vis-à-vis its principal imperialist rivals, the temptation of the American bourgeoisie to stem the economic tide and even turn it in its own favor through the use of military power must be very great.
While the military buildup of the United States has been justified as a necessary response to the invasion of Kuwait, it is obvious that the Iraqi action merely provided a long-awaited pretext for the implementation of strategical plans that the last three American governments have been working on for more than a decade. Indeed, as the first statement of the Workers League Political Committee on the crisis stressed, the United States has for many years been making political and military preparations for the occupation of the Persian Gulf. A former State Department official, John Ausland, has boasted in an article which appeared in the French press that he personally participated in decades-old planning for military action in the gulf.
“These preparations,” he wrote in Liberation of August 25, “began at the end of the 1960s after Harold Wilson’s Great Britain informed the United States that it could no longer maintain the same level of military presence east of Suez.” Britain’s retreat, according to Ausland, led immediately to the creation of “what has become over the years the gigantic logistical base on Diego Garcia in the middle of the Indian Ocean.”
Since the early 1980s the US Middle Eastern Force has been operating locally from facilities it leased from Bahrain. AWACS surveillance aircraft have been based in Saudi Arabia.
According to information provided by a Marine Corps general in testimony before congress last year, billions of dollars have been spent over the past 10 years to upgrade military facilities in the Azores, Morocco, and on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. Substantial improvements have also been made to port and airfield access facilities in Kenya, Somalia, Djibouti, Oman and Pakistan so that they might be ready for use in the event of a Persian Gulf emergency.
The United States had also prepositioned in the region substantial stores of fuel, ammunition and other requirements to maintain large combat forces in the gulf. In addition, the United States developed special water purification and distribution equipment, communications packages, and off-loading equipment tailored for use in the gulf region. The sealift capability of the US was more than tripled between 1981 and 1987. Finally, there have been extensive desert training exercises for US military forces.
However, the realization of these plans and preparations would not have been possible without the decisive contribution which has been made by the Gorbachev regime to the imperialist ambitions of the United States. The critical turning point in the development of this crisis came when Shevardnadze signed the joint communique with State Secretary Baker which gave the US a free hand in the gulf. The Soviet bureaucracy no longer attempts to feign sympathy with the oppressed nations or pretends to bargain on their behalf with imperialism. The venal petty-bourgeois parasites that constitute the personnel of the Soviet regime are proud to serve as the accomplices and cheerleaders of the imperialist warmongers. In exchange for American credits, not to mention a few dollar-denominated bribes, Kremlin officials offer the United States a free hand in dealing with the Arab people. In fact, the middle class parasites in the Soviet bureaucracy and lumpen-intelligentsia—obsessed with their dreams of restoring capitalism and converting themselves into a new bourgeoisie—display less resistance to American imperialism than would a genuine bourgeois class conscious of its own national interests. To the extent that the old pre-1917 Russian bourgeois was striving to strengthen the position of his national capitalism in the affairs of world imperialism, he recognized the antagonism which existed between the interests of Russian imperialism and that of its rivals. The Persian Gulf region, then part of the Ottoman Empire, was an area in which the interests of pre-1917 Russia clashed sharply with those of its European competitors. But Gorbachev and his ilk, who seem to believe that the term “imperialism” is merely a swear word invented by Lenin, are incapable of any broad historical and political generalizations. He seems not even to realize that his glorification of imperialism will lead, unless stopped by the working class, to the colonial subjugation of the USSR itself. Gorbachev’s policies prove the correctness of Trotsky’s remark that ignorance armed with power is as dangerous as insanity with a razor blade.
In the short run, there is no question that the treachery of the Kremlin strengthens the hand of imperialism. But only those who have not understood the historical role of Stalinism or who value “superpower diplomacy” over the class struggle will bemoan the Kremlin’s present-day role in world affairs. In fact, for decades the policies of the Kremlin—which ruthlessly suppressed the independent revolutionary struggles of the working class and subordinated its historical interests to the reactionary mirage of “peaceful coexistence”—served to preserve the stability and equilibrium of world imperialism. The bureaucracy utilized all the authority and prestige of 1917 to strangle the revolutionary initiative of the masses. In the light of the present crisis, it is possible to see how terrible a price the working class is paying for these decades of treachery. In the backward countries, the Kremlin rendered its most invaluable service to imperialism by bolstering the bourgeois nationalist regimes which functioned as a bulwark against socialist revolution. The Soviet bureaucracy provided “socialist” and “anti-imperialist” credentials to regimes like that of Saddam Hussein and built up their authority in the eyes of the working class. Even when these regimes sent members of the local Stalinist parties to the gallows or firing squads, the Kremlin continued to sing their praises. The now unabashed alignment of the Stalinists with the imperialists merely brings to its final form the essential counterrevolutionary content of the political line upheld by the Kremlin during the entire postwar period.
For the bourgeois nationalists, the new diplomatic alignment of the Kremlin means the loss of maneuverability. It is no longer possible for them to exploit the opportunities once provided by the old “superpower rivalry.” They are caught between the growing pressure exerted upon their economically bankrupt countries by their imperialist masters and the growing resistance of the working class and impoverished masses to the programs of national austerity—which, in the conditions of the backward countries, come more and more to signify, in practice, mass starvation.
It is within this context that we must analyze the recent actions of Iraq. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in a desperate attempt to find some way out of the catastrophic economic crisis which is the direct consequence of the disastrous eight-year war with Iran. What attitude should the revolutionary working class take to this action? Should it denounce the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait as “aggression”?
We believe that it should definitely not. In the first place, all the talk about “aggression” ignores everything that preceded the firing of the “first shot.” Kuwait, along with Saudi Arabia and the other gulf states, had been working in league with the United States to maintain low oil prices and to drive Iraq into an ever more desperate financial position. The imperialist-backed feudalists were waging economic war against Iraq well before August 2. But there is a more important objection. To speak of Iraqi “aggression” against Kuwait implies support for the territorial integrity of this sheikdom which was created by British imperialism as part of its scheme to divide the Arab masses and retain control over the Arabian peninsula. Like all the boundaries of the Persian Gulf states, they lack all political, geographic and historical legitimacy. They are simply, to use a phrase employed recently by Mr. Bush, lines “drawn in the sand.” A historian of the Persian Gulf recently wrote that there are some 21 onshore and offshore territorial boundaries between 10 gulf states that could lead to serious conflict. She wrote, “it is difficult to talk of the settlement of boundaries that have never been defined. Five of the 21 boundaries in the gulf fit that category ... all of Oman’s boundaries remain undefined except possibly part of its boundary with the UAE. Similarly Saudi Arabia’s boundary with South Yemen has yet to be defined...” (Lenore G. Martin, The Unstable Gulf: Threats from Within (Lexington Books, D.C. Heath and Company], pp. 33-34).
The manner in which the sheikdom of Kuwait emerged out of Britain’s imperialist diplomacy and its participation in the dismemberment of the old Ottoman Empire constitutes just one of the many sordid chapters in the history of the British Empire. Even as the British imperialists were compelled to retreat from their former possessions in the aftermath of World War II, they still sought to preserve Kuwait as an important base of operations in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean. Allow me to quote a document which was written by a British diplomat in Baghdad in June 1947. In order to maintain British influence in the region, he proposed that the imperialists create what he referred to as police stations in the area. This official, Douglas Busk, wrote the following in 1947:
It seems to me that our strategic and security interests throughout the world will be best safeguarded by the establishment in suitable spots of police stations fully equipped to deal with emergencies within a large radius. Kuwait is one such spot from which Iraq, south Persia, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf could be controlled. It will be well worth while to go to considerable trouble and expense to establish and man a police station there. I should start now to establish a new base in Kuwait where we can reasonably count on security of tenure for a great many years. (Howard and Paret, eds., On War, [Princeton, 1976], p. 86).
We have no interest in defending this Kuwaiti state. Our opposition to the Iraqi invasion, as I will explain, is based on considerations more profound than a concern for the fate of borders drawn by the British and then defended by the United States. Moreover, we support the strivings of the Arab masses for self-determination and share their hatred for the semifeudal enclaves created by imperialism.
But it is precisely because we, as proletarian internationalists, are consistent and not opportunist in our opposition to the imperialist division of the Arab nation, that we attribute no progressive role to Hussein’s invasion. We oppose the invasion not because it represents “aggression” against Kuwait, but because it cannot—even if successful—contribute to the democratic unification of the Arab masses and their liberation from imperialism.
That is why I disagree with the suggestion made by a comrade that “We must support this annexation from the standpoint of the unfulfilled national and democratic tasks of the Arab revolution.” He added:
We must say that the annexation represents a small step by the Iraqi bourgeoisie towards that task which they cannot and will not complete. We support this move in the same way that Chiang Kai-shek’s move against the warlords in 1926 should have been supported; that is, we support all measures to remove the imperialists and their agents and at the same time maintain our independence, our own program and prepare the working class for the overthrow of the national bourgeois regime.
In my opinion, this is entirely wrong. The proposal that we must positively support this annexation of Kuwait by the Iraqis would lead the ICFI in a false direction and undermine the theoretical and political gains that have been made since 1985 in our collective struggle against the Workers Revolutionary Party’s betrayal of the program of world socialist revolution. A number of points should be made.
The action taken by the Iraqi bourgeoisie is not a step of any sort toward national independence and the completion of the unresolved tasks of the democratic revolution. Through its annexation of Kuwait, the Iraqi bourgeoisie seeks merely to strengthen its own position vis-a-vis its imperialist masters and its bourgeois rivals in the region. It seeks not the destruction of the imperialist order but the renegotiation of its terms.
To speak of the “progressive” character of the annexation of Kuwait without considering the class nature of the regime which has carried it out is, in the light of the vast experience accumulated by the international working class over the last half-century, to indulge in self-deception and the deception of the working class in the Middle East. The Arab bourgeoisie consists of political scoundrels whose Pan-Arabist phrases merely conceal their own venal and provincial ambitions. The Baathists sing hymns to Arab unity while ruthlessly subordinating that fictional goal to the material interests of the national bourgeoisie within the imperialist-drawn state borders defended by their regime. Thus, it is not accidental that there exist no more bitter enemies than the Baathist Assad and the Baathist Hussein.
Again and again, such “progressive” actions as the invasion of Kuwait have been followed by the most treacherous deals with imperialism. For example, Sadat’s 1973 victories in the war against Israel paved the way to the Camp David deal. There is no reason to believe that Saddam Hussein would have proceeded any differently if his annexation of Kuwait had not been challenged.
The fact that the United States has decided to utilize the Iraqi annexation of Kuwait as a pretext for its long-planned assault in the Persian Gulf does not mean that we are required to support the actions of the Iraqi regime. We unconditionally defend Iraq against US imperialism; which means, in fact, that we defend Iraq despite our opposition to the regime of Saddam Hussein and its policies.
Of course, we do not bemoan the liquidation of the state boundaries of Kuwait. We do not call upon the Iraqi regime to withdraw from Kuwait, created by imperialism as a means of preserving its interests in the region. But we do not believe that the Iraqi invasion and the subsequent annexation can lead to the resolution of the outstanding problems of democratic development. The economic and cultural development of the Arab masses requires not merely the elimination of “imperialist enclaves,” but the entire capitalist nation-state system throughout the Middle East. We seek not the reshuffling of borders but their elimination. That can be achieved only by the revolutionary proletariat on the basis of a socialist program.
It is understandable that comrades should feel inclined to welcome the chasing of the Emir out of Kuwait. But sympathy must not be translated into any sort of defense of the policies of the Iraqi bourgeoisie. If we support the annexationist policy of the Iraqi bourgeoisie, our claim to uphold the independence of the working class is reduced to a mere pretense. Our independence is grounded on a historical perspective which attributes to the working class a progressive revolutionary role that no other social force can play. Therefore, we fight for the unification of the Arab masses not through the medium of any of the existing regimes, but through the building of the world party of socialist revolution and the overthrow of these reactionary bourgeois regimes.
There may be a superficial similarity between the political aspirations and methods of Saddam Hussein and those of Bismarck. But what was achieved by Bismarck in the nineteenth century on the basis of wars and annexations cannot be achieved in the twentieth. Moreover, the task of our epoch is not the creation of new viable national states but the fraternal unification of all nationalities into a worldwide socialist federation that raises mankind to a higher economic and cultural level. As Trotsky said, “The national problem merges everywhere with the social. Only the conquest of power by the world proletariat can assure a real and lasting freedom of development for all nations of our planet” (Writings of Leon Trotsky [1933-34], p. 306).
Finally, for the sake of the clarity of our historical conception, we are obliged to observe that the reference to Chiang Kai-shek suggests that revolutionary policy in 1926 consisted of supporting the reactionary leader of the national bourgeoisie. In fact, that was the line of Stalin, who insisted upon the subordination of the Chinese Communist Party and the working class to Chiang’s Northern Expedition and thereby to the bourgeois Kuomintang. Trotsky, however, referred to the Northern Expedition under the leadership of Chiang as “an expedition against the proletariat.” In another article, he said, “The Northern Expedition only served to strengthen the bourgeoisie and weaken the workers.” Trotsky maintained that the Northern Expedition could have yielded positive results for the workers only if the Communist Party had intervened with its independent program among the masses, in opposition to the policies of Chiang Kai-shek. At any rate, an attempt to provide political support to the annexation of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein by citing the anti-warlord campaigns of Chiang Kai-shek is an academic and sterile exercise. A loose analogy is not a substitute for historically-concrete analysis.
At the present time, it cannot be stated with certainty how this crisis will develop over the next few days and weeks. In this situation we must bear in mind Trotsky’s adage: the more concrete a prognosis, the more conditional it is. Events are moving very quickly and any number of outcomes are possible. Within the upper echelons of the bourgeoisie a debate is raging over the advisability of resorting to war. Last week’s selloff on Wall Street is an indication of the nervousness within the ruling class over the political and economic implications of a full-scale military clash. For all the war propaganda in the media, the more astute sections of the bourgeoisie are reluctant to base all their calculations on the highly dubious premise that all the high-tech weaponry will work flawlessly and produce complete victory within a few days, if not hours. Indeed, unless the bourgeoisie, or at least those in Bush’s entourage, has completely lost its head, it must seriously doubt that the aims of the United States can be achieved on the basis of a single and massive strike against Iraq. The very launching of war changes the objective situation and raises new and even unforeseen problems that may well prove to be greater and even more dangerous than those which the military actions were intended to resolve. The precise mathematical calculations of the Pentagon technicians would be the first casualties of war; for, as old Clausewitz noted long ago, war produces “an interplay of possibilities, probabilities, good luck and bad that weaves its way throughout the length and breadth of the tapestry. In the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards” (Louis, Wm. Roger, The British Empire in the Middle East 1945-1951 [Oxford Press, 1984], p. 327).
But the massive buildup of military forces has a logic of its own; and there is reason to doubt that even an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait would avert a military strike by the United States. It is less and less likely that a return to what the Financial Times, the leading organ of the British bourgeoisie, calls the status quo ante, is acceptable to the United States. Its goal of establishing a major American base in the Persian Gulf region is incompatible with the existence of an Iraqi military force in its present form.
Significantly, yesterday’s New York Times declared, “The U.N. Resolutions don’t go far enough. There’s a need for broader objectives—reducing the risks of future Iraqi aggression and preventing hostile control of gulf oil. To these ends, Iraq would have to agree to destroy its chemical and nuclear-weapons facilities and accept credible international inspection. This would be accompanied by border guarantees and an international force to monitor frontiers.”
The Wall Street Journal has gone even further. It states explicitly that the “optimum” aim of American policy should be the military conquest of Baghdad and the installation of “a MacArthur regency.”
Barring a complete capitulation by Saddam Hussein—entailing not only a complete withdrawal from Kuwait but also major political concessions on matters relating to Iraq’s internal security (the size of its army, its weaponry, etc.)—it is not likely that the far-reaching aim of the United States to establish its undisputed military and political domination of the region can be achieved without war.
However, we need not engage in too much conjecture over the course of events in the coming weeks and months. It is far more important to recognize that whatever the immediate outcome of this crisis, the political situation on a world scale has been transformed. If this particular crisis does not lead to war, another crisis not too far in the future will. We must grasp that the change in the world situation will pose the greatest political challenges to all the sections of the International Committee and the Workers League. For the revolutionary party, a war crisis is a great political test. It reveals the real political character of all tendencies in the workers movement, the true value of their program and perspective, and the caliber of their cadre. It exposes who has prepared for struggle and who has not.
The crisis has already provided the most powerful verification of the scientific content of the perspective upon which the Workers League and the International Committee have based their work. The events of the past month did not come as a surprise to either the Workers League or our international cothinkers. We anticipated and prepared for the crisis which has now erupted. Throughout the past year, in the face of a campaign of unprecedented virulence against Marxism, the International Committee has insisted that the breakdown of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe represented a crisis of the entire imperialist system and postwar order through which the global interests of the capitalist system were maintained for nearly a half-century. We stated that the events in Eastern Europe, arising out of the pressure of the world economy on the obsolete nation-state system, was part of a general collapse of the international equilibrium which had regulated the affairs of imperialism. A new equilibrium, we warned, could not be achieved without passing through a protracted period of political and social convulsions. Permit me to refer to a number of statements that have appeared in the press and internal documents of the Workers League and the ICFI.
In the statement of the Political Committee on the US invasion of Panama, issued December 22, 1989, the Workers League stated:
The attack on Panama shows the increasing resort of US imperialism to military force. It is the third time in little more than four weeks—following the dispatch of Delta Force commandos to San Salvador and the mobilization of the US Air Force to block the Philippines coup—that US military forces have intervened in the affairs of another country.
Far from a sign of strength, the resort to military force is the expression of the weakness and crisis of American capitalism. With its financial system in a shambles, facing escalating trade and budget deficits, and hammered by the competition of more efficient imperialist rivals, especially Japan and West Germany, imperialism is seeking to assert by force what it no longer has the economic resources to sustain....
The US is thus flexing its muscles, not merely to chase out Noriega, but to send a warning to its principal rivals in Europe and Asia that while in decline economically, the United States still possesses decisive military advantages.
This combination of economic weakness and military power is an explosive mixture. But in the long ran, the first factor is far more decisive, and the increasing recklessness in the use of American military power means that inevitably, US imperialism is headed for a monumental debacle....
The US invasion is yet another expression of the increasingly incendiary nature of world politics. The tendency to resolve local disputes through armed force leads inexorably towards a more general military conflagration. The return to gunboat diplomacy signals a violent eruption by American imperialism on a global scale.... The collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the abandonment of any pretense of anti-imperialism by the Soviet Union have made US imperialism even less likely to show restraint in its actions.
On January 6, 1990, in a political report to the membership of the Workers League, the following was stated:
The postwar settlement was aimed at resolving the very contradictions which led to the bloodiest war in history, a war which nearly brought about the end of capitalism and now, 45 years later, it turns out that all those contradictions are still there, all those fault lines still exist and once again world imperialism is preparing inexorably for a new confrontation between the major imperialist powers. What could be more explosive than the combination of America’s declining world position and its still considerable military power.
Nations and states and classes don’t go peacefully into the ‘Good Night.’ America is not going to accept the loss of its world position. It views this as the American century, no matter what defeats and setbacks it has suffered....
Taken within a world historical framework, the breakdown of the Eastern European regimes and the postwar order in general means the reassertion, on a far higher level, of all the basic contradictions of imperialism. Far from entering into a new and triumphant period of capitalist ascendancy, imperialism stands on the brink of a new bloody epoch of wars and revolution. The new equilibrium that will be necessary for capitalism will only be worked out after a period of profound straggles and eruptions of all sorts, of wars and revolutions. In other words, contradictions have been set into motion that cannot be peacefully resolved. So this is the question confronting the working class, that it must resolve this crisis on a progressive basis or it will be resolved by capitalism on an extremely reactionary one.
In the opening report to the 14th National Congress of the Workers League on February 17, 1990, it was stated:
But the pressure of the world economy, which has had such a devastating effect upon the nationally-isolated economies of Eastern Europe, is having a no less shattering impact upon the political and economic relations of the major imperialist powers. The old capitalist equilibrium that prevailed during the postwar era, which depended upon the hegemonic role of American imperialism, has now been shattered; and a new equilibrium cannot be reestablished without a violent restructuring of political and economic relations among the major imperialist powers.... Now, the breakup of that equilibrium reopens the Pandora’s Box of economic and political rivalries that produced within the space of 25 years, between 1914 and 1939, the eruption of two world wars which proved to be the greatest and most terrible conflagrations in history.
At the 10th Plenum of the ICFI, on May 6, 1990, the following point was made:
The political map is being redrawn as dramatically as it was in the period after 1914. The question is: how is it going to be redrawn and who’s going to do the redrawing? Is it going to be redrawn on a capitalist basis, that is, through wars and bloody annexations, which is what the future will hold, or is it going to be redrawn by the working class through the abolition of national boundaries and the establishment of a worldwide socialist federation.
On the next day, this point was expanded upon:
The question is: will the imperialists be able to work out a new and stable equilibrium peacefully? Clearly, the Old equilibrium which was established after World War II on the basis of the global supremacy of US imperialism is utterly unviable. This supremacy has been deteriorating over an extended period, but the framework of the Cold War still endowed it with a certain legitimacy. The United States-Soviet antagonism provided the means for suppressing the inter-imperialist rivalries. If there exists any possibility of working out a new inter-imperialist status quo ‘peacefully,’ it first of all depends on the willingness of the United States to accept a new relationship which, in one way or another, given the changes in the relationships economically between the major capitalist powers, would represent a diminution of its world position. The question is: should we expect such a dignified retreat on the part of American imperialism? The evidence so far strongly suggests that we should not.
The perspectives resolution of the Workers League, initially adopted in February and amended in April, summarized the objective situation as follows:
The Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe were an essential part of the political framework established at the end of World War II by imperialism, with the collaboration of Stalinism, to suppress the proletarian revolution. Their collapse expresses not only the crisis of Stalinism. It is the most advanced expression of the general crisis of world imperialism, and signals the disintegration of the postwar order. In Eastern Europe, the chain of the imperialist world order has broken at its weakest link. The underlying economic crisis of world capitalism is as profound and sweeping as those which forced the redrawing of the map of Europe and other parts of the world in the aftermath of World War I and the October 1917 Revolution, and again in the aftermath of World War II. Previously sacrosanct political divisions and state borders are crumbling first in Eastern Europe. But this is only the prelude to a convulsive period of wars and revolutions that will remake the map of the world. The issue which confronts the working class is whether these changes will be imposed from above, by the imperialist ruling classes, by means of nuclear war and fascist barbarism, or from below, by the working class, by means of world socialist revolution.
World events are once again moving at a blinding speed, and the vastly accelerated tempo is itself the mark of a revolutionary period. The extended time span in which molecular changes in the economic base of society accumulated, and politics appeared to move at a glacial pace, has given way to an era characterized by frenetic changes and upheavals, in which the profound subterranean shifts have broken through the surface of political life. Fundamental class antagonisms, contained for decades beneath various political and state structures, have exploded into the open, and all of the contending social forces entering into battle have begun to advance openly the programs that correspond to their economic interests. This open clash of antagonistic class forces is the essential characteristic of a revolutionary period.
It is indisputable that the political analysis of the party has been vindicated by the course of events. But the vindication of our analysis is, more fundamentally, the vindication of the Marxist method and the entire principled foundation of the Fourth International. I will not repeat the points which have already been made in the editorial of the current issue of the Fourth International, but no other movement except that founded by Leon Trotsky can provide answers to the historic problems which confront the working class. Fifty years after his assassination, the program of world socialist revolution has acquired a life-and-death significance for the working class. All the alternatives to Marxism—the reactionary national socialist panacea of the Stalinists, the piddling reformism of the social democrats and trade union bureaucrats, the bogus anti-imperialist demagogy of the bourgeois nationalists in the backward countries, not to mention the apologias provided for all the above by Pabloite opportunism—have proven utterly bankrupt.
In confronting the present crisis, we base our work on all the essential principles of Marxism and the historical experiences of the working class embodied in the program of the Fourth International. In defining our attitude to this war, we have no need to seek programmatic innovations. Our work must be based on the principles of revolutionary defeatism elaborated by the great founders of our movement. We tell the working class that its principal enemy is the American ruling class and its government; that it must oppose the war drive of the American bourgeoisie with all its might; and that if war should nevertheless break out, the working class should continue to oppose the war and develop its independent class struggle in opposition to all appeals for patriotic sacrifice. Its attitude should be, “Not a man and not a penny for this imperialist war.”
We must, as advised by Trotsky, utilize transitional demands to aid the independent mobilization of the working class and break it from the influence of the pro-imperialist bureaucracies that dominate the workers movement. At a time when it is obvious to every serious worker that war is welcomed by the rapacious defense contractors who feared that the end of the Cold War might depress their profits, the Workers League must energetically call for workers control of the war industries, the confiscation of war profits, and the expropriation and nationalization of the war industries and their transformation into means of socially useful production.
The Workers League must build its antiwar program on the independent political mobilization of the working class and the youth against imperialism. There is no effective struggle against war except one that proceeds from the essential Marxist precept that war is the inevitable outcome of the contradictions of the imperialist system. We do not fight war with moral appeals to the bourgeoisie. We do not approach war as if it was a ghastly mistake. We recognize that war arises inevitably out of imperialism and, therefore, to fight war means to fight for the international unity of the working class and the overthrow of capitalism. Within this political framework, the demand for the formation of a Labor Party, based on a revolutionary program, assumes the greatest practical significance. Despite what Cliff Slaughter attempted to tell us in 1983 following the US invasion of Grenada, revolutionary opposition to imperialism is reduced to empty phrases if it leaves out the essential issue of fighting to break the American working class from the domination of the bourgeois parties.
The drive to war must accelerate the economic crisis of American capitalism and intensify the exploitation of the working class. We have often stressed that it is not possible for the bourgeoisie to maintain a policy of “guns and butter” as it did during the Vietnam era. The economic conditions which exist today are the opposite of those which prevailed in 1965 when President Johnson initiated the massive escalation of troop levels in Vietnam. In that period the United States was not troubled by trade deficits, and its dollar, convertible into gold at the price of $35 per ounce, functioned as the world reserve currency, that is, the bulk of world trade was calculated and paid for in dollars. Such was the apparent economic strength of the United States that Johnson and his advisers believed that the war in Vietnam would not interfere with the “war on poverty” proclaimed as the goal of the administration’s domestic policy.
But what is the situation today? The United States is the largest debtor country in the world; the dollar, now worth less than one-third its value in 1971 against the major currencies, is plunging on the world markets; and the trade and budget deficits have reached astronomical proportions, even before the enormous expenditures required to finance the US military operations in the Persian Gulf. What is coming is not a war on poverty but a war on the working class. From the very start, the United States must place the full burden of militarism on the back of the working class. The financial credits required by the American bourgeoisie to pay for its military adventures must be raised on the international credit markets, which, in turn, will demand drastic reductions in the increasingly miserable living standards of the working class.
Therefore, the preparation for war and its actual outbreak must produce an enormous intensification of the level of class struggle in the United States. Efforts will be made, of course, to suppress its expression. One can be certain that among the first victims of war will be the democratic rights of the working class and all those who oppose American imperialism. But no amount of police repression can contain the mass discontent that the suffering caused by war will produce. It will inevitably break through the surface; and the Workers League—while taking the necessary measures to strengthen its political security and anticipating the likelihood of attacks on its legal rights—must systematically prepare for that inevitable development.
The historical experience of the twentieth century has demonstrated the profound connection between imperialist war and social revolution. Lenin’s call to turn the imperialist war into a civil war was not some sort of agitational appeal, but a programmatic formula based on a scientific analysis of the organic tendencies of capitalist development. Imperialist war, as Lenin explained again and again, is the outcome of objective social contradictions whose development, accelerated and intensified by war itself, inevitably leads to a revolutionary crisis. However, the development of a revolutionary crisis into a social revolution is not simply an objective process. It requires the intervention of those subjective forces which are actively seeking to utilize the possibilities created by the revolutionary crisis to achieve the conquest of power by the working class. The revolutionary party represents that essential subjective force.
In appraising the political situation and our historic tasks, we recall the words written by Lenin in 1915:
The experience of the war, like the experience of any crisis in history, of any great calamity and any sudden turn in human life, stuns and breaks some people, but enlightens and tempers others. Taken by and large, and considering the history of the world as a whole, the numbers and strength of the second kind of people have—with the exception of individual cases of the decline and fall of one state or another—proved greater than those of the former kind....
Will this situation last long; how much more acute will it become? Will it lead to revolution? This is something we do not know, and nobody can know. The answer can be provided only by the experience gained during the development of revolutionary sentiment and the transition to revolutionary action by the advanced class, the proletariat. There can be no talk in this connection about ‘illusions’ or their repudiation, since no socialist has ever guaranteed that this war (and not the next one), that today’s revolutionary situation (and not tomorrow’s) will produce a revolution. What we are discussing is the indisputable and fundamental duty of all socialists—that of revealing to the masses the existence of a revolutionary situation, explaining its scope and depth, arousing the proletariat’s revolutionary consciousness and revolutionary determination, helping it to go over to revolutionary action, and forming, for that purpose, organizations suited to the revolutionary situation. (The Collapse of the Second International [vol. 21], pp. 216-17).
Every comrade must recognize that enormous tasks confront this party. A war changes everything: all the relations between classes, the relation between the party and the working class and the relations within the party itself. The greatest danger we face is complacency and fatalism and the continuation of forms of work and routines that have acquired the force of habit. It is not easy to change methods of work which have been rooted in objective political conditions which are quite different from those which we now confront. We must fight against all methods of work which are based on the unstated assumption that somehow or other things will continue to go on as they have gone on in the past, that the present crisis and the increasingly explosive conditions within world imperialism will not produce social eruptions that quite suddenly change the relationship of the party to broad masses of workers and which pose directly to the party the task of leading tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and even millions of workers in struggle. We have stressed repeatedly during the past year that the objective relationship between the party and the working class has changed. All the practical experiences of the party during the past year have tended to confirm that. A vast gulf has opened up between the masses and their official leadership and that gulf will grow far wider as the impact of the war crisis is felt by broad masses of workers.
We must mobilize the growing discontent of the working class; we must tirelessly fight for its independence; we must above all turn energetically to the youth, which is that section of the working class which will be called upon first of all to bear the most bloody sacrifices of imperialist war; and through this turn to the youth and the working class as a whole we must recruit new forces into the party. There is no place for skepticism, complacency and fatalism in this movement. Our party has undergone a vast political development in the course of the last decade. Those comrades who recall the period of the Vietnam War know that our movement both within the United States and internationally is far more prepared to confront the revolutionary challenges posed by the situation than it was in that period. And anyone who believes that we cannot achieve our goals, that the revolutionary perspective is unrealistic, has not seriously considered the meaning of the events of the past year.
In the course of the past year, we have seen our movement conduct work in areas which would previously have not been possible. Lectures have been held in Moscow, we have contacts who are eager to undertake mass distribution of the Russian Bulletin throughout the Soviet Union. Our comrades are conducting work throughout what was East Germany, and the BSA is gaining an ever more powerful reputation in the advanced sections of the working class in the GDR.
But the breathtaking tempo of events is only a small-scale anticipation of the changes that we will witness in the next period. For as Trotsky wrote in 1940:
War, let us once again recall, speeds up enormously the political development. Those great tasks which only yesterday seemed long years, if not decades away, can loom up directly before us in the next two or three years, and even sooner. Programs which are based on habitual peacetime conditions will inevitably remain dangling in midair. On the other hand, the Fourth International’s program of transitional demands, which seemed so ‘unreal’ to nearsighted politicians, will reveal its full significance in the process of the mobilization of the masses for the conquest of state power. (Documents of the Fourth International [New York: Pathfinder Press], p. 220).
Our program today is the most realistic of all programs in the world. No other movement has understood, has analyzed, has anticipated developments as this party has. It is the power and strength of that analysis which provides the deepest insight into the real relationship of class forces. The work which we are carrying out is not based on the clever insights of a few individuals. It expresses the growing comprehension of the working class as a whole of its historical tasks and such a development of consciousness reflects the very advanced stage of social contradictions.
We are not making predictions or offering guarantees; but we have no doubt that the period immediately before us will open up possibilities which only a short time ago would have appeared almost inconceivable. Can this party and the other sections of the International Committee become mass parties in the period immediately ahead? Is it possible that in a year’s time we will be holding meetings attended by hundreds and thousands of people? I believe that is certainly the case. That is the direction of objective developments. We must base ourselves not on what we perceive to be our organizational limitations, but on a scientific analysis of the objective situation.
Our task is to mobilize the working class for the conquest of power. Our perspective has already demonstrated the power of the Marxist method and now we must act on this perspective to transform the forms of our work, to develop our activities broadly throughout the working class, to change in practice the relationship between our party and the growing insurgent movement of the working class and in that way provide the revolutionary answer to imperialist war.