Year in Review: 2004

In 2004, as the lies upon which the Iraq war was based became exposed and the occupation dragged on, the truly brutal and criminal nature of the war was seen in the massacres in Fallujah and other cities and the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Accompanying the growth of militarism was the attack on democratic rights within the United States and in all the countries involved in the “global war on terror.”

War crimes and the occupation of Iraq

The year 2004 was the first full year of the US occupation of Iraq, as well as the third full year of the US-NATO occupation in Afghanistan. The year witnessed a stream of atrocities and war crimes, including massacres in Fallujah, Najaf, Karbala, and other cities in Iraq, as well as revelations of sadistic torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and other US prison camps. Throughout the year, the WSWS explained that the explosion of imperialist war that opened the 21st century was not merely the policy of the Bush administration, but was a product of the deepening crisis of American capitalism.

After insurgents killed four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in April, US forces systematically leveled the city of 300,000 in a series of attacks culminating in Operation Phantom Fury in November. During the siege, males aged 15 to 55 were prevented from leaving the city and targeted by US marines. A ground assault by marines was combined with devastating indiscriminate aerial bombardment and the use of white phosphorus, a chemical weapon.

Untold thousands of civilians died in the massacre, which involved flagrant violations of international law. In, “Horrific scenes from the ashes of Fallujah,” the WSWS wrote:

The assault on Fallujah is Nazi-style collective punishment, not liberation. The city has been reduced to rubble because its political, religious and tribal leaders, motivated by Iraqi nationalism and opposition to the presence of foreign troops in their country, organised a guerilla resistance to the US invasion...

The aim of the US assault is to make Fallujah an example to the rest of Iraq of what will happen to those who oppose the transformation of their country into a US client state. It is the spearhead of an orgy of killing intended to crush and drive underground every voice of opposition and ensure that elections next year result in a venal, pro-US regime.

The WSWS described the siege of Fallujah as a "killing spree." The spirit of the operation was encapsulated in footage of a US marine executing a wounded and unarmed prisoner inside a mosque, which came out later in the year. Similar collective punishment was meted out in other cities in Iraq.

In late April, the world saw the infamous Abu Ghraib prison photos for the first time. The images of sadistic torture, including naked detainees stacked in pyramids and threatened with dogs and electrocution, shocked the world and exposed the real face of the US occupation. 

Torture at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib were not “isolated occurrences.” On the contrary, brutal treatment was expressly authorized at the highest levels of the Pentagon and the Bush administration. The crimes and the psychology underlying them could only be understood as arising from the conditions of social decay and breakdown within the US, together with the dirty colonial aims of the war itself. 

In, “Abu Ghraib and the failure of American society,” WSWS writer David Walsh wrote:

The argument that the torture of Iraqi detainees by US military personnel and civilian contractors results from the actions of a few “bad apples” needs to be rejected with contempt. Every quasi-serious investigation, carried out by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the media or the US military itself, points to a “systemic” pattern of humiliation, terror and—in an unknown number of cases—murder prevalent in the American jails and camps holding Iraqi prisoners.

Examining the conditions of economic and cultural decay in the United States, and the social type cultivated by the military, Walsh wrote:

Only people who have been given nothing morally or culturally by their society are capable of the crimes committed at Abu Ghraib. And the US armed forces will have ever-increasing need of this social type to carry out its dirty work. The warning must be issued: such a military, accompanied by a growing army of professional “civilian” mercenaries, represents a danger not only to oppressed peoples in the Middle East, Central Asia and elsewhere, but to the democratic rights of the population in the US. 

Underscoring the fact that Abu Ghraib was not an exception, in August, three Britons detained for more than two years by American forces in Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay released a dossier detailing their treatment, which included being kept in tiny metal crates with steel mesh walls. Other reports on the conditions of prisoners in Iraq described a regimen of beatings, death threats, rotten food, dirty water, and psychological torture.

Throughout the year, the WSWS continued to publish material examining the historical roots and political consequences of the Iraq war. WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North gave a report to meetings in Australia in September (“The war in Iraq and the 2004 US presidential election”), in which he said:

The events of the last four years have changed profoundly global perceptions of the United States. Even for those who were not inclined to view American society through rose-tinted glasses and knew better than to accept uncritically Washington’s endless professions of its democratic and benevolent ideals, recent developments have come as a shock. The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have provided examples of the sort of unbridled imperialism that the world has not witnessed since World War II. The grotesque images of sadism displayed in the photographs taken in Abu Ghraib prison will define for an entire generation the brutal and predatory essence of the American occupation of Iraq.

In a subsequent public appearance in Dublin, Ireland, where he participated in a debate on the war at Trinity College, North cited the precedent of the Nuremberg Tribunal after World War II in arguing that the Iraq war was a war crime for which top officials of the American government should be prosecuted. Addressing the resolution of the debate, North began:

An unbridgeable moral chasm divides the political establishment, intoxicated with delusions of imperialist grandeur, from the millions of working class people who hate war, want no part of an American empire, do not want to kill or conquer anyone, have no financial interests in the oil fields of the Middle East and Central Asia, and believe in their hearts the words of Lincoln—that it is right that makes might, and not the other way round.

The proposition before this House, “That the United States is still the world’s peacekeeper,” turns international political reality on its head. To call the United States a “peacekeeper” is akin to describing an undertaker as an “after-life enhancement specialist.”

The WSWS maintained from the start that the “weapons of mass destruction” claims by the Bush administration were lies. In 2004 these lies unraveled, and the Pentagon quietly withdrew its weapons-hunters. The WSWS also analyzed Saddam Hussein's show trial, noting the nervousness in ruling class and media circles in the US that the trial would backfire, exposing the long and sordid history between Washington and Hussein’s Baath regime in Baghdad.

An important nine-part series, “The diplomacy of imperialism: Iraq and US foreign policy,” analyzed the record of American imperialism in Iraq, drawing out the vital historical lessons for the working class in the Middle East and exposing the claims made by the Bush administration to justify its occupation of the country. 

The year saw growing popular opposition to the war. There were countless protests and meetings, but also many cases of soldiers expressing their opposition to the war, including one, former staff sergeant Jimmy Massey, who gave a detailed account of his experiences in Iraq to the WSWS.

The first anniversary of the launching of the Iraq war, March 19-20, witnessed a global outpouring of opposition to the invasion and occupation. At the protests, supporters of the World Socialist Web Site and Socialist Equality Party widely distributed the statement “One year since the US invasion of Iraq.” It warned that the protest organizers were seeking to line up the anti-war movement behind the Democratic Party:

Basic lessons have to be drawn from such fundamental political experiences as the war in Iraq, the Spanish election, and Democratic Party’s embrace of the continued US occupation. There can be no viable anti-war movement so long as it remains tied to the Democratic Party. The struggle against war requires something more than a protest movement that seeks to pressure the parties and institutions of the ruling elite. It requires a complete break with the Democrats and the implementation of a new strategy—based on the independent political mobilization of working people, in the United States and internationally, against imperialism.

The 2004 US elections

While there was growing mass opposition to the war within the United States, antiwar voters were completely disenfranchised in the 2004 US presidential and congressional elections, in which two pro-war parties competed over which could more effectively achieve the goals of American imperialism in the Middle East and Central Asia. In opposition to the two big-business parties, the Socialist Equality Party ran its own candidates, Bill Van Auken and Jim Lawrence (see below).

The Democratic Party served its traditional function as the graveyard for popular opposition to the policies of big business, with the rise and fall of Howard Dean in the race for the party’s presidential nomination. A conservative on fiscal policy who had initially positioned himself as an advocate of budget-cutting, the former governor of Vermont became the vehicle for corralling antiwar sentiment within the framework of the corporate-controlled two-party system.

Dean became the early frontrunner, but his campaign was scuttled by the political establishment and the media at the moment that it tapped into widespread frustration and anger not only with the policies of the Bush administration, but with the refusal of the Democratic Party to do anything about it. This remarkable episode further exposed the tight control exercised by the political establishment on the system of “elections” in the United States.

Kerry won the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary, and went on to win the nomination with relative ease, after Dean quit the race in February. The result was that the majority of the American population who opposed the war in Iraq would have no alternative in the November election. As the WSWS wrote, in an editorial statement, “The US political elite engineers a Bush-Kerry election”:

The stage is now set for a presidential election contest between two representatives of the American political establishment, Kerry and George W. Bush, who have no fundamental differences. In a country of nearly 300 million people, with a complex and increasingly polarized social structure, the political choice offered in November will be to decide which Yale-educated scion of a wealthy family will govern the country.

On the most burning issue, the war in Iraq, Kerry’s differences with Bush are purely tactical. He opposes demands for the withdrawal of American troops from the occupied country and calls for the commitment of whatever military forces and resources are required to crush the Iraqi resistance.

Kerry’s outlook was summed up by his first words accepting the nomination at the Democratic National Convention in July 2004. Standing on a stage packed with retired generals and admirals, he gave a military salute and declared: “I’m John Kerry and I’m reporting for duty.” Once he was nominated, “left” sections of the Democratic Party, including presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, quickly threw their support behind Kerry.

Kerry tapped as his keynote speaker at the convention an obscure Illinois state senator, the “rising star” Barack Obama, who later on in the campaign was to call for US missile strikes against Iran.

Kerry ran a campaign that combined pro-war nostrums with pledges for “pro-business” fiscal austerity. “I don’t fault George Bush for doing too much in the war on terror,” Kerry said at one point during his campaign. “I believe he has done too little.” He went on to state that he would have voted for the invasion of Iraq even if he had known that there were no weapons of mass destruction.

The WSWS also covered the campaign of erstwhile Green Party candidate Ralph Nader. Nader, who ran in 2004 as an independent candidate, signaled his support for the Iraq war by advising Kerry on how to win over “mainstream Iraqis” to the side of the occupation forces. The Democrats meanwhile waged a reactionary drive to keep Nader off the ballot. 

Meanwhile, the campaign of George W. Bush and the Republican Party combined militarism, national chauvinism, threats, and “compassionate conservatism,” meaning the mobilization of Christian fundamentalists on the basis of religion. The Republican National Convention featured a fascistic rant from pro-Bush Democrat Zell Miller.

Kerry’s embrace of the war and his refusal to propose any serious measures for dealing with the mounting US social crisis all but assured Bush’s narrow reelection, by a 3 percent margin, despite the deep unpopularity of his administration.

Democrats explained their electoral defeat in 2004 by the pronouncement that they had moved too far to the left. This self-justification for the pro-war and right-wing policies took the form of a claim that that what decided the elections in the end were “moral issues.” In his post-election report, “After the 2004 election: perspectives and tasks of the Socialist Equality Party,” North reviewed these and other arguments, and outlined a political perspective for the second term of the Bush administration.

US President George W. Bush receives Democratic candidate John Kerry's concession over the phone at the end of the 2004 election

Political shifts internationally

There were significant political developments internationally that were bound up with the Iraq war, the eruption of militarism and the mobilization of repressive forces in country after country in the name of the “global war on terror.”

In January, the Hutton Inquiry’s report into the circumstances surrounding the death of David Kelly, a former UN weapons inspector in Iraq and whistleblower, was released. It exonerated the British government of any responsibility for Kelly’s death and cleared Prime Minister Tony Blair of having manipulated and falsified intelligence in order to drag the country into an illegal war against Iraq. This whitewash implicated the entire British state in the predatory war of conquest.

During February, protests instigated by former military officers in Haiti and other right-wing and CIA-backed elements paved the way for a violent and bloody coup against the nationalist government of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. US Marines, seconded by Canadian troops, landed in the capital city, Port-au-Prince, and Aristide was put on a US plane and sent into exile in South Africa.

In Australia, the death of 17-year-old Aboriginal youth TJ Hickey in inner Sydney in February, while fleeing from police on his bicycle, triggered widespread anger, and saw violent clashes between Aboriginal people in the suburb of Redfern and riot police. The unrest was seized on by the political establishment to attack Aboriginal residents and prepare a wider police buildup.

TJ Hickey’s life was representative of an entire generation of Aboriginal youth condemned to poverty and unemployment. WSWS reporters attended the state coronial inquest into the death, and subsequently exposed the blatant whitewash of the police who were responsible for the youth’s death. 

In the Spanish capital Madrid, terrorist bombings killed 192 people on March 11. The WSWS Editorial Board condemned the attack in a statement, noting that “resort to indiscriminate terror attacks aimed at the maximum destruction of human life is the hallmark of groupings deeply hostile to the interests of the working class.”

The right-wing government of José María Aznar’s Popular Party sought to blame the Basque separatist ETA for the atrocity, rather than Al Qaeda, to conceal the connection between the bombing and its decision to enlist in Bush’s “coalition of the willing” in Iraq. 

Three days later the PP was voted out of office in nationwide elections, an outcome that, as the WSWS  analyzed, reflected the Spanish working class’s “pronounced anti-imperialist sentiment and active commitment to defending democratic rights that found expression, firstly, in Spain’s overwhelming opposition to the Iraq war; secondly, in the widespread lack of trust in Aznar’s PP; and, finally, in the anger that exploded when it was revealed that the political heirs of Franco had systematically lied about who authored the Madrid atrocities in order to preserve their rule.”

José Luis Zapatero’s Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) government subsequently announced that Spanish troops would be withdrawn from Iraq, eliciting the wrath of the Bush administration and accusations that the Spanish people were cowards and appeasers of terrorism. However, in July the PSOE set up a limited parliamentary commission into the Madrid bombings that was aimed at preventing a full-scale public inquiry into the entire Iraq policy of the PP government.

Also in March, the Stalinist regime in China revised the country’s constitution to explicitly protect the private ownership of property, business and wealth. This marked the continuation of the refashioning of the Chinese state apparatus in the interests of the new capitalist class that had been spawned by Beijing’s free market agenda since 1979. China’s rapid economic growth saw vast quantities of wealth accumulated by the ruling and capitalist elite in China while the Chinese working class suffered ever-deteriorating social and working conditions.

In May came general elections in India, called early by the ruling right-wing Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) and its National Democratic Alliance (NDA) coalition government was dissolved in February, eight months earlier than scheduled. The BJP hoped to capitalise on rapid economic growth figures, and the reactionary international climate, but it suffered a shock defeat. The vote reflected widespread hostility towards the BJP’s pro-business agenda, promoted under the banner “India Shining.” 

The Stalinists and their Left Front subsequently played a pivotal role in the formation of a new government in India—led by the bourgeoisie’s traditional party of government, the Congress Party—which continued the pro-market “reforms” of the defeated BJP-led regime, as well as its pursuit of a strategic partnership with the US.

The death of former US president Ronald Reagan in June was the occasion for a predictable deluge of praise and mythologizing in the bourgeois press. In his obituary, David North discussed the true significance of Reagan’s presidency: an orgy of enrichment for the financial elite, at the expense of the working class, courtesy of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy and the Democratic Party.

Far from being the “great communicator” celebrated by the US political establishment, North maintained:

The typical Reagan speech was a mixture of hokum, bunkum, flapdoodle and balderdash of the type dished out daily by motivational speakers, along with mashed potatoes and turgid chicken breasts, at countless business luncheons in the Marriotts, Hyatts and Hiltons of America.

In September, a group of Chechen insurgents seized a school in Beslan in North Ossetia, a neighboring region in the Russian-controlled Caucasus. Russian police ultimately stormed the school, and the death toll reached staggering proportions. Then the Putin government sought to cover up the catastrophe with a series of lies, analyzed and exposed in the WSWS, and used the atrocity to justify plans for military operations throughout the region.

The Australian government, which had committed the largest number of troops to Iraq after the US and Britain, faced an election on October 9. In the aftermath of the Spanish election result, Labor opposition leader Mark Latham had made a highly qualified pledge to withdraw Australian forces before the end of the year. This triggered sharp warnings from Washington. Labor quickly fell into line, confirming its support for the continued occupation of Iraq and making clear its advance support for any future US-led pre-emptive wars.

The official election campaign saw virtually no discussion of the war in Iraq. Howard was re-elected, with Labor’s vote falling to under 38 percent, its lowest share since 1931. The WSWS explained, in a two-part article, that, “Contrary to the media pundits, Howard’s election victory did not connote support for the invasion of Iraq, indifference to the government’s lies or the confidence of a prosperous and contented electorate in the coalition government’s economic and social policies. Rather, it signified that the deep-going concerns of millions of people could find no outlet within the framework of the two-party system.”

In the Middle East, one of the key events of 2004 was the death of Yasser Arafat, the international symbol of Palestinian resistance for nearly four decades, on November 11. He had earlier been forced to live for months under house arrest, surrounded by Israeli troops and deprived of the most basic amenities. A WSWS obituary stated:

“Yasser Arafat will be remembered as a man of tremendous personal courage and unswerving loyalty to the cause of Palestinian liberation… The ultimate failure of Arafat’s national project cannot be ascribed to the subjective attributes of an individual. In any event, Arafat’s strengths and weaknesses reflected the problems and contradictions of the political movement he led… The root of Arafat’s tragedy is the false political perspective upon which his political struggle was based. Even more emphatically today—in a globalised economy dominated by a relative handful of transnational banks and corporations—the fundamental lesson of the twentieth century pertains: the solution to national oppression and social exploitation lies not along a national, but rather along an international and socialist road.”

In Ukraine, the second-round presidential elections, held November 21, saw Viktor Yanukovich, the candidate with close ties to Russia, representing the interests of coal and steel oligarchs based in the Russian-speaking eastern part of the country, declared the winner. However, his opponent Viktor Yuschenko claimed the vote was rigged and led a series of public protests backed by the US and European ruling elites and dubbed the “Orange Revolution” by the corporate media. The WSWS opposed Washington’s role, warning what earlier US-backed “color revolutions” had produced in Serbia and Georgia.

Yushchenko wanted to open up Ukraine to western capital and strategically reorient to Washington. Eventually, his opponents gave in and conceded a re-vote December 26, in which Yanukovich was defeated. The WSWS provided an independent analysis of the internecine fighting within the Ukrainian ruling elite, including an on-the-spot report from Kiev noting that the presidential rivals had “nothing in common with the interests of the broad majority of the population.”

Democratic rights and social struggles

The year 2004 saw a dramatic assault on democratic rights around the world. In the United States, the Bush administration used the supposed “terrorist threat” to carry out a vast expansion of police-state powers. This trend was followed by the ruling elites in many of the countries allied with the US war policy.  

Less than two weeks after the beginning of the new year, Bush signed into a law an act that expanded police spying powers and the controversial Patriot Act. The administration pressed forward with legal arguments that would effectively destroy fundamental rights like habeas corpus, telling the US Supreme Court, in response to a challenge to the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, that those seized in the “war on terror” had no right to challenge their incarceration.

The year ended with the US Congress adopting a sweeping reorganization of the US intelligence agencies to strengthen their powers against the population of the country. At the same time, the selection of former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik as the head Department of Homeland Security—which ultimately ended in scandal and Kerik’s withdrawal—shed light on the rise of gangster elements in the American security apparatus.

Similar developments took place in Europe, where a Fortress Europe policy was imposed to prevent immigrants from entering the EU countries, including the creation of a special special border protection force, Frontex, patrolling the Mediterranean. Several thousand refugees per year lost their lives in pursuit of a means to survive, drowning in the sea. Refugees captured within the continent, particularly in Germany, were treated with increasing brutality.

In February the Dutch Parliament had decided on the mass deportation of more than 25,000 refugees. In October, the Italian government began to immediately send back those who managed to reach the shores of Italy, without granting them their right under international and European law to even apply for refugee status.

The campaign against Muslims and immigrants took the most open and reactionary form in France, where the conservative government, socialist opposition, media, and most liberal and even “left” organisations supported the banning of the Islamic veil in schools. This was done under the pretext of defending “republican values” and secularism. But it was only a camouflage for inflaming xenophobia in order to split and weaken the working class in the face of the attacks on social programs.

While the September 11 attacks were used as an all-purpose pretext for whatever actions the White House, Pentagon and CIA desired, the official investigation into these attacks was a deliberate cover-up of the indifference, inaction or outright negligence of the Bush administration in response to warnings that a catastrophic terrorist attack was about to take place in the United States.

In a detailed analysis of “What the September 11 commission hearings revealed,” the WSWS explained that the bipartisan commission was tasked with suppressing the mounting evidence that the US security apparatus had effectively allowed the attacks to take place, and that the Al Qaeda leadership had longstanding ties to the CIA that were never to be seriously investigated.

In August 2004, the US government used unsubstantiated “threats” of surveillance of financial institutions by Al-Qaeda to declare an “orange alert.” Hundreds of heavily armed local and federal police were deployed around key financial institutions in Washington, New York and Newark, New Jersey. This political move, backed by Kerry and the Democrats, was calculated to promote the reelection of George Bush and ensure that the November election was held in an atmosphere of fear.

The same month, in clear violation of basic democratic and Constitutional rights, the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) and the New York Police Department mobilized agents to spy on, interrogate and threaten antiwar protesters and disrupt their activities in advance of the Democratic convention in Boston and the Republican convention in New York City.

The NYPD launched a harsh crackdown against anti-Bush protesters, arresting between 1,500 and 2,000. Protesters had been detained under abysmal conditions—in some cases for 24 hours or more—in chain-link cages topped with razor wire where they were forced to sleep on the concrete floors covered with oil and chemicals.

These police mobilizations showed that the real target of the “war on terror” was not a handful of Islamic fundamentalists hiding in caves in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but the mounting social opposition from the working class, in the United States and internationally, to the attacks by the ruling class on jobs, living standards and democratic rights.

By 2004, America had become the most unequal of the major industrialized countries, and the WSWS gave considerable attention to the deepening social polarization. While 82 million Americans lacked health insurance at some point during 2002-2003, and corporations slashed thousands of jobs even during a so-called recovery from the 2001 recession, the wealth of the ruling elite grew exponentially.

These were global trends, with the number of billionaires worldwide increasing to a record 587, and their combined wealth soaring by 36 percent in a single year. At the same time, one billion children suffered one or more forms of social deprivation, including 500 million without sanitation and 270 million without access to health care.

The assault on living conditions didn’t come without a response from the working class.  A wave of militant urban protests against corruption and poverty erupting in China, a major strike in the Canadian province of British Columbia, a struggle at an Opel car factory in Germany against job cuts, and strikes by nurses and school workers in Michigan were among the many workers’ actions covered by the WSWS.

SEP campaigns on four continents

In the course of 2004, sections of the International Committee waged election campaigns on four continents. In Sri Lanka, Germany, Australia and the United States, Socialist Equality Party candidates advanced a common international program, centered on the struggle for the political mobilization of the working class against imperialist war and attacks on democratic rights.

In Sri Lanka the SEP contested parliamentary elections held in April 2004. The party’s statement outlined a revolutionary socialist perspective for the unification of the working class in Sri Lanka and South Asia with their class brothers and sisters in America, Europe and around the world. 

In the course of the campaign, the SEP warned that the election marked a turning point, with President Kumaratunga’s constitutional coup marking a turn towards dictatorial forms of rule and a resumption of the brutal communal war against the Tamil people. The SEP also exposed all the various opposition parties, including the Sinhala-chauvinist  JVP and JHU, and the pseudo-left NSSP. In the aftermath of the election, the SEP warned that the Kumaratunga administration had sown the seeds for a re-eruption of the civil war.

The German section, the PSG, intervened in the European Parliament election held in many European Union countries in June, advancing a program for the socialist unification of the European continent, in opposition to the proposed capitalist European Constitution that would entrench the power of the big financial monopolies.

The British section joined in this campaign against the EU constitution, issuing its own statement that analyzed the contradictory position of the British ruling class, which sought closer economic ties within Europe while still maintaining its “special relationship” with American imperialism.

The ICFI sections opposed both the expansion of NATO into the former Warsaw Pact territory and the assault on the jobs and living standards of workers in Germany and other longstanding EU nations. These attacks produced a collapse in political support for the Social Democratic Party (SPD), which was reduced to 25 percent of the vote in Germany, a historic low. 

In an effort to provide a new prop for German capitalism, a section of trade union bureaucrats and “lefts” created the Election Alternative for Jobs and Social Justice (WASG), which went on to merge with the ex-Stalinists of the East German PDS to form the Left Party.

The PSG received more than 26,000 votes for its candidates, its best showing ever in a German election, despite a virtual boycott by the media. This included significant support in cities and towns where the PSG had previously had no active presence. At the same time, the results were a shock to the governments of all the EU countries, with record abstentions and losses for ruling parties. 

In Australia, the Socialist Equality Party intervened in the October federal election, providing an independent political voice for the working class, and a socialist perspective and program to fight against war, social reaction and the onslaught on democratic rights. From the outset, the SEP characterized the official campaign as one of lies and provocation, with the Howard government extending “the big lie technique from war to the economy” by exploiting record household debt levels to run a scare campaign over the threat of rising interest rates if it lost office. The campaign against the Iraq war, which the SEP had advanced throughout the year, was central to the party’s electoral intervention.

In a series of campaign statements, as well as public meetings and forums, the SEP’s slate of candidates exposed the major parties’ right-wing agenda and differentiated the party’s working class perspective from various minor parties and protest candidates. James Cogan examined the political evolution of Peter Garrett from radical activist to Australian Labor politician. In an important two part article, SEP National Secretary Nick Beams wrote on “The ideology and politics of the Australian Greens.”

The longest election campaign, extending over nearly ten months, was in the United States, where the SEP announced it would run in the presidential and congressional elections in a statement January 27.  Bill Van Auken, a longtime leader of the SEP and a writer and editor of the WSWS, was the presidential candidate, while another longtime leader of the SEP, Jim Lawrence, a retired autoworker from Dayton, Ohio, was the candidate for vice president.

From the beginning of the campaign, the SEP was the only party that took a principled stand against the war in Iraq, as statements issued by the presidential candidate Bill Van Auken made clear.

An objective analysis of the crisis of capitalism, the explosion of US militarism, and a detailed review of the role of the Democratic Party was the heart of a Conference organized by the SEP in March of 2004 under the title: “The 2004 US Election: the Case for a Socialist Alternative.”

In the opening report, WSWS Chairman David North, after reviewing the objective causes of the war, explained:

Based on all the lessons of the history of the American working class, the Socialist Equality Party completely rejects the claim that the most burning task in 2004, to which all other concerns and considerations must be subordinated, is the defeat of President Bush.

No, the most pressing and urgent task is to fight for the political independence of the working class on the basis of a socialist and internationalist program. The problem of Bush must be solved by the working class itself. It must advance its own solution and not farm this out to various sections of the ruling elite.

The conference was also addressed by Bill Van Auken and Jim Lawrence as well as delegates of the International Committee from Australia, Germany, Britain, and Canada, who all spoke on the international nature of the campaign.

The SEP presidential campaign won important support among workers and young people, and the SEP candidates were on the ballot in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey and Washington. In September the SEP published an election statement in which it outlined the major themes in the elections. 

In addition to running candidates for president and vice president, the SEP also ran congressional or state legislative candidates, in California, Illinois, Maine, Michigan and Ohio. In many states the SEP candidates faced vicious opposition from the Democratic Party and state election officials. In Illinois, University of Illinois officials sought to victimize SEP candidate Tom Mackaman, who was a student and part-time instructor.

Alongside these ambitious and energetic political campaigns, the sections of the International Committee further developed the Trotskyist critique of phony “left” intellectuals of the stripe of Noam Chomsky—who endorsed Kerry and the Democrats in the presidential election.

Nick Beams made an important assessment of the political career and thought of Paul Sweezy, the long-time co-editor of Monthly Review magazine and author of the influential volume Monopoly Capital, explaining that Sweezy essentially rejected Marx’s theory of the breakdown of capitalism and adapted himself to Stalinism politically.

Peter Schwarz, secretary of the ICFI, detailed the history of the main French opportunist “left” groups,  Lutte Ouvrière, the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire, and the Parti des Travailleurs, the political representatives of petty-bourgeois radicalism in its state capitalist, Pabloite and syndicalist variants.

Chris Marsden, secretary of the British SEP, examined the politics of the principal leader of the British state capitalist group, the Socialist Workers Party (formerly International Socialists), in a three-part review of Alex Callinicos’s book An Anti-Capitalist Manifesto.

This theoretical work was absolutely vital for the International Committee to take the political offensive against the pseudo-left organizations that today have emerged as a critical prop of imperialism and bourgeois rule in all the major capitalist countries.

Art and culture

In 2004, the WSWS published film reviews of Cold Mountain, 21 Grams, Maria Full of Grace, The Dreamers, City of God, Quentin Tarantino’s repugnant Kill Bill 2, and dozens of other films, both US-made and international. There was also commentary on the 76th Academy Awards and obituaries or appreciations of such important film figures as Alan Bates, Marlon Brando and Michelangelo Antonioni.

The WSWS’s engagement with cultural topics included extensive coverage of film festivals from around the world, including Buenos Aires, San Francisco, and Berlin.

Particularly important was a review of a fully restored version release of the groundbreaking anti-imperialist documentary, The Battle of Algiers, and an interview with its director Gilles de Pontecorvo. Richard Phillips wrote in his review:

Almost 40 years after its initial release it has tremendous resonance because it demonstrates the modus operandi of contemporary colonial oppression and reveals what gives rise to and fuels a nationalist insurrectionary movement. In fact, the citywide sieges, mass roundups and torture shown in the film prefigure Israeli military attacks on the Palestinians and the methods employed today by US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The genuine, widespread popularity of Michael Moore’s documentary exposé Fahrenheit 9/11 pointed to mass opposition to the “war on terror” policies of the Bush administration. In his review, David Walsh pointed to the significance of the film’s initial success at the box office, with hundreds of thousands flocking to see it to show their hostility to Bush and the war in Iraq.

The response to Fahrenheit 9/11 is a shattering exposure of the American media and its leading personalities. The massive turnout at the box office—unprecedented for a non-fiction film—gives the lie to the claims about the popularity of the “war president” and his regime.

The review also pointed to Moore’s political weaknesses, particularly his “refusal to break with the Democratic Party, populist pandering, and obsession with Bush as an individual.” Moore’s subsequent evolution vindicated this warning. Whereas Fahrenheit 9/11 explicitly linked the explosion of militarism to the economic structure of society, Moore is now an open apologist for the militaristic policies of the Obama administration, which he falsely characterizes as being milder than those under Bush.