More Than Just a Slogan?

The purpose

There a number of purposes to this afternoon.

The ultimate goal we in Sheffield have set ourselves is the greater coordination of the efforts of all those, whatever their political starting points, who share the recognition that the only way to oppose capitalist war, the famines capitalism produces and the deterioration of the ecological framework of life itself is through class struggle to overthrow the root cause of these disasters - the profits system itself.

However we also want it to be a place where people engage in a constructive discussion to deepen both our personal understanding of the situation we are in and to achieve a greater collective clarity about how a working class fight has to be conducted.

This seems all the more urgent given the nature of the situation which capitalism has arrived at today.

The situation we are in today

The period we are in is framed by the stagnation of the economic system. Capitalism as a mode of production hit a brick wall 30 years ago. The clearest sign of this was the devaluation of the dollar (1971/3). The system’s time lords have since tried everything to escape from the fundamental lack of profitability. Inflation and deficit financing was used to undermine militancy in the early stages, then we went over to nationalisation of failing industries, then when the cost of this threatened national budgets monetarist ideas came in. De-regulation and privatisation accompanied by mass unemployment was the next non-solution. Finally, when none of this had reignited the accumulation of capital the capitalists went over to fraud - speculation and debt created a fake economic revival which has now blown up in the faces of the ruling class.

However capitalism can have all the economic crises you like but it is still capitalism. Left unchecked it has nothing to offer but more misery and barbarism. And barbarism means war. There is only one class which can overthrow it and that is the working class however much it is has been written off (and it has been written off many times before even by so-called socialists (from Bernstein, through Marcuse to Gorz) it is the one global class which is collectively exploited by capitalism. Its struggles alone tend towards a collectivist solution for humanity’s problems. It alone is the class which has the material capacity to halt capitalism’s war.

War is not simply the product of aggressive tendencies in human beings nor of the presence of evil in the world as the religious pacifists and liberals believe. War is the product of capitalist competition.

The Cold War did not explode into direct conflict between the two imperialist super-powers not so much because of the nuclear balance but because both emerged as victors in 1945. Both were out to preserve their share of the world against the perceived expansionism of the other. But even this apparently benign premise led to the deaths of uncounted millions which perhaps added up to 40 millions in half a century.

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union however we were promised a “New World Order” by Bush I. What did this “New World Order” start off with? - the massive attack on Iraq. And this attack has remained permanent. Every day for the last ten years British and US planes have continued to bomb targets inside Iraq. With Iraq still an open sore the Allied powers did not hesitate to create and manipulate the Kosovo crisis. The horrendous attack on the WTC last September has allowed

Bush II to articulate what the New World Order means - the all out unilateral action of the USA against any other state especially those which challenge its imperialist hegemony. “The War on Terror” simply gives a convenient cover for what the US has been stealthily doing over the last decade or so.

The war has also been a war on the working class in the advanced capitalist countries. As if it did not already have enough instruments of repression, the democratic state is giving itself some more. Not for the first time the war on terror has increased the power of the state - in 1974 the Birmingham pub bombings led to the first Prevention of Terrorism Act in Britain. This effectively took away the right of habeas corpus (i.e. that the police have to charge you within a specific time). Today people can be arrested anywhere in the USA and charged with terrorism on the say-so of the secret services. There is no trial and no appeal; a process that does credit to the Tsarist secret police, the Okhrana, in the nineteenth century who simply spirited people to Siberia without the courtesy of a decent caution. The war on terror also stifles dissent. “If you are not with us you are against us” said Bush - no-one can now question what the USA is up to in Central Asia, Colombia, the Middle East etc. or else you are assisting Al Qaida.

But whilst the main focus of our propaganda and agitation has to be against the power of the existing capitalist states NWBCW also has its origins in opposing the liberal/left/ religious/pacifist popular front of the Stop the War Coalition. Many of us were driven together after the first STW meeting in Sheffield where there was much talk about God but none about the working class or socialism. Others have been accused of being racists because we have asked why reactionary Muslim clerics get to speak on platforms but not representatives of the working class. One person (not connected to NWBTCW) objected to the segregation of men and women in a meeting of Stop The War in Birmingham last autumn only to be threatened by SWP heavies who ejected him from the room. Let’s be clear - the Stop The War Coalition does include people who genuinely want to end war but they are fooling themselves and being fooled by a coalition which has a different agenda. STW is more about building the SWP by stealth than it is about opposing the drive of capitalism (a word it never uses except when talking of linking up to the anti-globalisation protest) to war.

The shoddy deals it is prepared to do against the interests of the working class are unbelievable. Don’t take my word for it, read Alex Callinicos on Kashmir in Socialist Review April 2002. After calling the Stop the War coalition “the best example of a united front”, he then says how clever the STW campaign was not to deal even-handedly with US imperialism and “Islamic terrorism”. He then goes on to say:

There have been attempts to get the STW to broaden its programme by, for example, campaigning against the danger of war between India and Pakistan. Any such move would split the coalition wide open, since many of its Asian supporters take diferent positions on the Kashmir question.

Leaving aside the strange idea that an alliance with the bourgeoisie is a “united front” what the good professor fails to tell us is that these are bourgeois nationalist positions that we must not offend.

When the STW coalition organises demonstrations under the slogans “Justice for Palestine” and “Solidarity with Iraq”, or when it allows young Asians to shout “Allah u Akbar” it is clear there is a need for someone to inject a class perspective into the fight against the war on terrorism

It is obvious from what’s already been said that the key to our perspective is the working class. It is the only force in society which is truly global, exploited in the same way (to whatever degree) and which has the collective strength to rebuild society along new lines which abolishes money, states, national frontiers and the horrors of war, famine and poverty.

But it remains a sleeping giant. Partially because it has been “disaggregated” by the crisis and partly by the blows that it has received as one or other of its former political leaderships have historically gone over to the capitalist class. First it was social democracy, then it was the Third International, even the original anarcho-syndicalist ideal perished in the ruins of the Spanish Revolution.

The relationship of war and revolution in class history

For revolutionaries this is a challenge and an opportunity. We should not forget that the nearest the working class got to overthrowing the capitalists system was in the revolutionary wave which was not only brought about by the First World War but also brought that war to an end, and created the only real international communist movement which challenged capitalism in the period after World War One. This movement had its origins in the fight against war but not from a pacifist basis. The revolutionaries who split from the Zimmerwald and Kienthal conferences, from Germany and Russia in particular, were the ones who went on to found the Third International. They called not for an end to war, not for a “just peace” as the majority at these conferences did but for it to be turned into a civil war to overthrow the system that is behind the war.

The spirit of our resistance is based on the same theme. To quote Lenin:

Present day socialism will only remain true to itself if it joins neither one nor the other imperialist bourgeoisie, only if it says that the two sides are “both worse ”, and if it wishes the defeat of the imperialist bourgeoisie in every country. Any other decision will, in reality, be national-liberal and have nothing in common with genuine internationalism.

However such a call had to have an echo in a real class movement.

But between Zimmerwald in 1915 and the founding of the 3rd International in 1919 there was a real resistance, from the first strikes in Germany in 1916 through the mutiny in 1917 when French troops actually refused to attack and extorted a promise from their commanders that for the rest of the war they would only defend the territory not in German hands.

In March 1917 came the beginning of the Russian Revolution whilst in the same year British troops mutinied and deserted. By November the working class, headed by the Bolsheviks, overthrew the pro-war Provisional Government. Lenin’s first act was to issue the decree on peace. This forced President Woodrow Wilson to issue his 14 points calling for a peace based on fairness in January 1918. In the same month a frightened British Government conceded votes for most Women and all men for the first time. The British Government was also forced to bring in rationing to stave off the threat of revolution due to food shortages. And it was the starvation of the population which ultimately brought about the November Revolution in Germany which overthrew the Kaiser and established a republic.

Where do we go from here

Our task is different from the past. The direct experience of war created the working class revolutionary movement almost from scratch. Revolutionary defeatism in 1914 did start out as a slogan of orientation but actual wartime experience and the working class response to the war transformed it into a living programme. Today the victims of imperialist aggression are most likely to be in places like Afghanistan where the proletariat is tiny or almost non-existent. This is why we think that any coordination of revolutionaries on a national scale also presupposes internationalist coordination.

At the same time we know that Afghanistan is not the end of the story (in some ways it was not even the beginning - we have already had Bosnia, Kosovo, and Iraq). Indeed what is significant is that there are no ends to any of these wars. The USA is gradually settling troops in every strategic area and expanding its occupation. It has given the green light to Israel to continue its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.

We cannot become a coordination which only comes into life every time somewhere gets bombed - we have to have an ongoing existence which reacts to all the wars and all the demonstrations against them, which intervenes in all public arenas where the left try to press their nationalist solutions, and it needs to provide a forum for discussion about what is happening in the world and what we intend to do about it.

In one sense the rightward drift of bourgeois politics in the centres of capitalism has opened up a space for us to operate. With the Labour and Social Democratic Parties no different from the Right and the former so-called revolutionary left donning the social democratic mantle abandoned by the Labour Movement, the possibility for a genuine revolutionary force to emerge exists. Indeed this meeting would have been unthinkable a short while ago. It is the result of the coming together of all those who recognise that proletarian positions can only be fought for outside the stifling frontism of the traditional left.

Some timid souls recoil from the name NWBCW. Class war sounds violent. But violence depends on our enemies. As Lenin made clear in 1914 the call to carry out the class war isn’t a call for individual action. Indeed that is the very opposite of the spirit of our ideas which is to develop the conscious collective action of the class as a whole. The more conscious and collective the class acts the less violent will the capitalist response be.

Which is why we also reject terrorism. It isn’t just a random anti-human act which sweeps up the “innocent” but it is also elitist in that it is based on the premise that the actions of small groups rather those of the working class as a whole can change society.

What we in Sheffield would like to see is:

  1. The creation of other groups in other cities
  2. Ultimately we would like to see this coordination reach other countries
  3. These groups to be active locally in opposing STW and the Socialist Alliance and any other left manifestation that sporadically claims the title of revolutionary.
  4. These groups also to take on the anti-globalisation movement and draw those in it towards class politics
  5. These groups also to engage in discussion and debate to deepen our understanding of where we stand in the process of change and how we can then help to create the conditions to bring it about.
  6. These groups would organise discussions between different tendencies as part of our ongoing activity.

This is not an exhaustive list nor is it anything other than a proposal but we do believe that in the face of the misery which the continued existence of the capitalist mode of production offers the vast majority of humanity it is not so much a case of “workers of the world unite we have nothing to lose but our chains. We have a world to win”, but the opposite. If we don’t begin the process of creating a proletarian response now there will be no future. We certainly will have a world to lose. Socialism or barbarism is already the historic choice of our time.

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