Let's Get to Work – A New Year's Message from the Freedom Road Socialist Organization
Facts on the Ground
A second major feature of 2003 in the US is going to be a rain of economic blows clobbering ordinary folks. This will be true even if the corporate world’s balmiest predictions come true–the economy manages some growth, and the stock market finally edges upward again. Most significantly, massive budget deficits loom at the state and local level across the country. The certain result: service cuts, lay offs, and a perceptible decline in the standard of living.
There will be no help from the federal government. The national budget is locked into deficit for years to come, and that’s without factoring in the hundreds of billions an invasion and the subsequent occupation of Iraq will burn up.
What’s more, the Bush administration, with a loyal House and Senate, plans to push as hard to restructure the US as it is doing to the world balance of forces. Look what’s happening already: the “War on Terror” now has immigrants ordered to report to police stations from which hundreds of them simply disappear–into cells or deportation, at least so far.
The Homeland Security Act has already eliminated more union jobs than any decertification election in the memory of the labor movement. Now Medicare and Social Security are in their gun sights. So are taxes on corporate dividends.
In short, Reagan-style, they are driving to create “facts on the ground” in the interests of the rich that will prove extremely difficult to reverse later.
The Movement Grows
Which is not to say that the news is all grim.
In the months since it became clear that the Bush administration’s next major target is Iraq, the anti-war movement has gotten more focused and has grown in size and even coordination. Unions representing over 3 million workers have passed anti-war resolutions. Students are organizing on their campuses and mobilizing for larger demos. Activists in most cities and even many small towns have formed local coalitions, established vigils and made day-of plans to protest invasion. Many more religious leaders and celebrities have expressed outright opposition or at least doubts about Bush’s course.
This surge in opposition builds on the anti-war and anti-repression work of the year following 9/11, including the struggle to defend Arab, Muslim and Asian detainees and deportees. Young Arab American and Asian American activists have spearheaded the battle against these racist attacks.
United for Peace, a national network formed in October, is making real strides. UfP began by gathering information about anti-war activities across the country and making the info available on one encouraging web site, http://unitedforpeace.org. They’ve now also begun to tackle the more difficult task of convincing various forces that have often been at odds to instead cross-support other groups’ major events, avoid date conflicts, and pace the various events so that they build on each other and create some momentum in the national media.
Two Big Challenges
For socialists and anti-capitalists specifically, there are two main challenges. The first challenge is to make the link between what people are suffering here in the US–especially economic austerity and racism–and the war drive. There will continue to be, for example, a narrow tendency in the labor movement to focus exclusively on the economy in the least-common-denominator, “let’s look for a deal from the bosses in return for loyalty” tradition.
To the contrary, people’s anxiety about the economy and the war, the de-legitimization of corporate CEOs, and the resentment of increased racial profiling can be mutually reinforcing and spark more resistance if activists make the connections clearly. Some polls show that only 19% of African Americans support a war against Iraq. As cities and states face unprecedented budget crises, the federal government will be totally unhelpful because of the resources it’s wasting on military interventions. In this way, these connections will become more evident.
The other challenge for socialists is to put the impending attack on Iraq in context. It is the immediate phase of the openly-declared endless war to tighten US capitalist domination of the globe–a ruling class quest that is wrong by every standard of justice, human rights and equality, and one that will leave us, the ordinary people of the US, less safe and more hated. That means that we should try to educate around an anti-imperialist understanding, but we should not try to make it a precondition for working with people.
A case in point is how we relate to efforts like Win Without War, an anti-war initiative which accepts the peculiar notions that Saddam Hussein is really a threat to the US people, and that the US government is justified in removing leaders of sovereign states whom it doesn’t like, so long as there is formal United Nations approval. (This approach would leave the anti-war movement without a paddle if, as has happened before, the US does manage to bully and bribe the UN Security Council into supporting an invasion.)
While we can criticize this line, we shouldn’t treat its advocates as agents or enemies or try and read them out of the movement. Our immediate goal is to build the broadest possible united front to stop an invasion of Iraq, or if we can’t do that, to force Bush and company to use up the maximum energy, resources and political capital in going ahead with their aggression; in other words, make them pay a heavy price and limit their future interventions.
Talking About War
The more work we do in putting forward an anti-imperialist perspective in discussions with folks in our workplaces and communities, the better situated we’ll be to deal with the inevitable jingoism that will arise with the start of an attack on Iraq. We should avoid the two major mistakes of the 1991 Gulf War–US chauvinism and catastrophism. We cannot again center opposition to a war on the prediction of massive casualties among US troops. It might not go that way, and US lives are not the only lives that count. Nor should we predict immediate uprisings of the Iraqi masses against the invaders. This may happen but the invading force may be too overwhelming, or it might happen later once an occupation is in place; we just don’t know.
In discussions with people in our workplaces and communities, we’ve begun by emphasizing that war with Iraq will make more people hate us, make our children less safe, drag the economy down even further, and shred civil rights with a witch hunt for terrorists here at home. All of this to control oil supplies, beat out rival powers and, while doing so, increase the profits of Bush and Cheney’s petro-cronies.
Now, to put the movement on firmer grounding, and to prepare for the Bush administration’s next moves against the Philippines, North Korea, the Palestinians or whoever is the target, we need to begin raising some deeper issues. What we need to remind people is that, with all Bush’s talk about the need to remove weapons of mass destruction from dangerous governments, there is only one government in the world that has ever actually used a nuclear weapon against human beings, and that is the United States of America. Who really constitutes a danger to the world’s peoples? What gives the country that jails the industrialized world’s largest percentage of its population (the imprisoned being themselves disproportionately people of color), the right to profile as protector of democracy and minority rights around the globe? Is it a coincidence that both our president and vice president, who come from oil company backgrounds, are set on dominating the country that has the world’s second largest oil reserves?
Well, we’ve got a lotta work ahead of us and 2003 surely won’t be an easy year. But things are shaking and where there is oppression, there is resistance.
And 2003 may well hold some surprises. The US ruling class is over-reaching so wildly that a year from now we might just be looking back on a string of reverses for imperialism, on growing people’s movements, on strengthened international solidarity among the oppressed, and on some real, concrete victories in the US and world-wide.
Let’s get to work.
National Executive Committee,
Freedom Road Socialist Organization /
Organización Socialista del Camino para la Libertad
Download this piece as a PDF