Class struggle in the nuclear age

The threat of nuclear war has hung over humanity for almost four decades. It is commonly regarded as an outgrowth of the development of science and technology. Many scientists and progressive scholars and economists attribute it to the fact that humanity has lost control over its own productive forces. But this is an altogether too narrow and in any case one-sided view of the situation.

Nuclear energy could have been developed and tried experimentally for civilian purposes. The threat of nuclear war would never have arisen had the productive forces of society become the common property of humanity, as the earth and its natural resources once were before the dawn of class society.

The nuclear threat continues to grow and become more menacing every day not because these products of human technology are uncontrollable but because they are the outgrowth of a science and technology completely tied to the development of capitalist imperialism. Science and technology have not only become subservient to big capital, they have become integrated with the capitalist state.

Before the arms race in nuclear weapons began, there were arms races in biological, chemical, air, and naval weaponry. Prior to World War I, technology and science were being feverishly developed in what was called "the race between the dreadnoughts." These were huge battleships which were able to deal the most dreadful destruction on sea and on land. One of the principal proponents of stimulating ever-speedier and more effective weapons of war, such as the dreadnought, was imperialist Britain. It was intent on preserving and expanding its vast, far-flung empire of colonies all around the globe from which it extracted imperialist booty. Because it spanned the globe, it could truly be said, "The sun never sets on the British Empire."

But coming up fast was imperialist Germany, a newer, more efficient, and more developed industrial colossus which felt constricted and constrained by the military, and above all naval power of Britain. The race between Germany and Britain for speedier dreadnoughts took on more and more momentum, particularly as Germany began to develop a huge and effective submarine fleet.

During this period French imperialism was by no means idle. Nor was Japan. And the czarist empire, weak and tottering under the blows of a revolutionary proletariat and peasantry, had still by no means surrendered its role as the gendarme over at least a part of Europe.

The U.S. was not the neutral power which Wilson had so vehemently and dramatically proclaimed it to be. His assertions about keeping the U.S. out of the war soon turned out to be one of the hollowest of all the mockeries.

These are the roots of the present nuclear threat.

The arms race took on especially ominous significance when U.S. imperialism decided, practically at the end of World War II when the imminence of surrender by Japan was evident to the whole world, to unloose nuclear death and destruction on Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This was not an attempt to save U.S. or other lives. It was an attempt to establish a nuclear-military superiority based on a permanent monopoly.

Against whom was it directed? Not against Japanese imperialism, which had been ruined and vanquished as had Nazi imperialism.

It was directed instead against the USSR which, despite overwhelming odds, had vanquished the Nazi-fascist Axis and emerged as a great world socialist power. By virtue of that fact alone, and notwithstanding the anti-fascist alliance with the imperialist democracies, the USSR was once again put in the dock as the enemy.

The truth of the matter is that there has never been a real peace between imperialism and the socialist republics of the USSR. U.S. imperialism in particular has never, even during the best days of the alliance with the Soviet Union against Hitler, really and truly accommodated itself to the existence of the Soviet Union and its new social order. The emergence of the USSR as a nuclear power, which destroyed the illusion of U.S. world mastery through nuclear monopoly, intensified the struggle of the U.S. and its imperialist allies against the Soviet Union. There have been intervals of so-called peaceful coexistence. But every now and then over these past dangerous years an incident has come along which threatens to explode into a world holocaust.

Let's take a look at one of these events.

Beginning on Thursday evening, Sept. 1, 1983, and lasting for 36 long and almost unendurable hours, a crisis emerged in which it once again seemed that at any moment a nuclear holocaust could develop. What was the nature of the episode?

As the whole world knows now, the U.S. accused the USSR of shooting down a civilian aircraft with 269 passengers aboard. According to the U.S., they were "murdered in cold blood," " with premeditation," "with malice aforethought," etc., etc. For 36 hours the population of the U.S. was kept hostage to an absolutely coordinated, pre-planned and meticulously executed barrage of media and press saturation.

No opposing view was presented. The capitalist presidential candidates, usually so eager for publicity, were told to either get out of sight or make themselves inconspicuous by their absence.

The Soviet Union was to be convicted of murder. The judge and the jury were to be the U.S. government, that is, the military-industrial complex of bankers, generals, and Big Oil. Swift punishment was demanded. The media, particularly ABC News Nightline, became the voice for the whipped-up elements in the population to demand tough measures for punishment. A so-called scientific poll of the public was said to run as high as 20-to-1 for the tough measures. It appeared to be a buildup to show that the "grass roots" were for harsh measures while a "reluctant," now moderate-looking, Reagan was to finally give the order to retaliate.

But that did not happen. It still is not clear where the crisis could have gone, how far it would have been permitted to proceed, and what stopped it.

But on January 8, 1984 -- four long months after the crisis had subsided -- the Washington Post Magazine ran a feature story on the KAL which detailed how the whole incident had been managed by the vast U.S. intelligence gathering system.

The conclusion of the article was that the whole event had been "an intelligence treasure trove" for the U.S. on how to penetrate Soviet air defenses. It listed a few of the many, many times over the last 30 years that U.S. aircraft have been downed over the Soviet Union, showing that violation of Soviet airspace is a deliberate and frequent occurrence and has resulted in 120 U.S. personnel known to be killed.

The article told of the giant U.S. tracking station Cobra Judy aboard the ship Observation Island, which is stationed off the Kamchatka Peninsula and monitors the Soviet Far East. It quoted from two U.S. pilots who had flown scores of missions over the USSR and China, Edward Eskelson and Tom Bernard. Their plane, the RC135, is the type of spy plane that had flown over Soviet territory the night the KAL was shot down. They said that the National Security Agency adjusts the flight plans of these planes so that they deliberately violate Soviet territory, thereby gathering information on the Soviet response. "We believe that the entire sweep of events -- from the time the Soviets first began tracking KAL Flight 007 ... to the time of the shootdown -- was meticulously monitored and analyzed instantaneously by U.S. intelligence," wrote Eskelson and Bernard.

Such information was not available during those initial days and hours of war hysteria, however. Then all the press would print told of the "innocent lives lost" and Soviet "savagery."

This incident is like so many in the past which momentarily aroused a great deal of emotional response. Tragic though they may be, it is necessary to know, based on a century of experience that these episodes are mostly of a contrived character. Even when they are not, they have no independent historical significance.

One must weigh them in the scales of the social evolution of capitalism as a whole. Viewed in that light one sees that their real significance lies in the fact that they inevitably set in motion a series of events which lead to a catastrophe and which cannot, except in rare instances, be reversed through peaceful means.

For instance, take the Gulf of Tonkin incident which should still be fresh in the minds of many. Has it really been that long since the U.S. press carried blazing headlines that North Vietnamese gunboats opened fire on U.S. naval forces stationed in the Gulf of Tonkin? Was it not President Lyndon Johnson, the State Department, and the Pentagon which issued the first reports on Aug. 4, 1964, and got the capitalist media to scream that the North Vietnamese had attacked U.S. destroyers on a routine intelligence-gathering trip in international waters?

By Aug. 7, with the media helping the government, the Congress was dragooned into passing the Gulf of Tonkin resolution authorizing the administration to take "all necessary measures to repel attacks against U.S. forces." The result? Some 50,000 American lives lost and millions of Southeast Asian people killed by U.S. guns, planes, and tanks.

But let us take a more distant incident.

What was the meaning of the shot at Sarajevo on June 28, 1914? That was the day Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austrian throne, was assassinated along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist. How many times in history have dukes, princes, monarchs, even czars, been assassinated? Was such an incident the result of an individual from an oppressed country attempting to strike back at an oppressor, a representative of the Austro-Hungarian Empire? Was such an incident responsible for setting in motion the first worldwide imperialist holocaust?

Today, the heirs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire are gone. The empire itself has gone. The monarchies have bit the dust. And none in Austria, Hungary, or Bosnia-Herzegovina where the assassination took place (now part of Yugoslavia) mourn the loss of either the Archduke or the monarchy. The incident in and of itself, divorced from the pattern of social development, has absolutely no significance in the scale of history. The loss of two lives could scarcely be justification for the deaths of millions more in the war, not even in the minds of the most fanatical of the followers and lackeys of the Hapsburg monarchy.

Yet the incident has to be weighed not in isolation but as a product of the entire course of development of imperialist policy which grew out of the evolution of capitalist competition into aggressive, expansionist, colonialist, racist, predatory imperialism. The assassination can only be evaluated in the light of the subsequent evolution of imperialist rivalry into imperialist war.

Confining oneself to merely the political or military manifestations of imperialism without understanding its basic nature is an exercise in futility. This can only obscure the real character, the actual inherent tendencies, of the contemporary stage of U.S. nuclear-military-imperialist strategy.

Certain elements in the bourgeois intelligentsia have time and again declared that in the nuclear-space age all philosophies and all theories concerning the development of contemporary society are irrelevant. They hold that science and technology, particularly as represented by the nuclear and outer-space weapons systems that are already in place, make any theory of society valid only if it divests itself of every kind of "special interest" and makes the struggle against nuclear war preeminent.

And who indeed would be against making the struggle against nuclear war the highest priority?

What class in capitalist society, however, has been able to abandon its own class interests in the interest of combating nuclear war? Has the bourgeoisie? On the contrary, it not only has not abandoned its ideological assault upon society and the workers and oppressed in particular, it has utilized the nuclear threat to intensify that assault.

All talk of the irrelevance of contemporary ideology in relation to the extraordinary advances in science, technology, and above all nuclear and space developments reduces itself to an attempt to induce the independent working class and oppressed people, especially their vanguard organizations, to abandon their "special interests" in the struggle against capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression. This does not bring us one iota nearer to eliminating the nuclear threat but, on the contrary, makes it more imminent.

It is with this in view that we ought to examine the opposing views of the fundamental political currents in the struggle against imperialist war in general and nuclear war in particular.

Both Marxists and pacifists are opposed to war. Both Marxists and pacifists seek peaceful solutions in order to avoid war, even though it is often said that the fundamental difference between Marxists and pacifists is that the latter are unequivocally and inflexibly opposed to the use of all violence. On the other hand, it is maintained that Marxists rely almost exclusively on the use of violence.

There are a great variety of pacifists, ranging from humanists to Christian socialists to some who even say they espouse Marxism. Of course, only the most dogmatic of pacifists are against the use of violence anywhere and everywhere. Some of the more progressive ones have shown flexibility and at least agree that in some cases, mostly in a war of an oppressed people, it is justified to take up arms.

Marxists, on the other hand, have never rejected peaceful means out of hand, if it could be demonstrated that the objective could be obtained that way and the road was clearly open for such a course of action. Who except those who have taken leave of their senses would prefer the use of violence if peaceful means were just as accessible and successful? Would any real union of workers prefer a strike if their demands could be obtained just as easily by negotiations?

There is, however, a very crucial and fundamental difference between Marxism and pacifism. Marxists differ from all varieties of pacifists in that they take as their initial point of analysis the class character of a given society. This is necessary in order to determine whose interests the state serves.

Pacifists take the view that the state in contemporary capitalist society can be either good or evil. They espouse the wholly erroneous conception that it is the nature of violence itself that stands in the way of a just, equitable, and prosperous society. In their view, the nature of society flows from the conceptions which prevail within that society. Marxists on the other hand hold the view that the prevailing ideas of society flow from its class character.

"The prevailing ideas of any time," said Marx, "are the ideas of the ruling class." Thus in capitalist society the prevailing conceptions in politics and philosophy as well as in morals are the product of and serve the interests of the ruling bourgeoisie.

It is not true that pacifists and Marxists only differ in their tactics or methods. On the contrary it is their divergence in tactics that often discloses fundamentally different goals.

One of the most profound characteristics of Marxist methodology is that it never divorces or isolates the means from the ends. They are interdependent. This is not recognized by the pacifists, who look upon the state as a means in capitalist society, as something like an empty bag which can be filled with any social content regardless of the exploitation and oppression which this supposed means, namely the bourgeois state, visits upon the working class and oppressed. The pacifists maintain that the state is or can be above the class struggle. Marxists, on the other hand, affirm that the state is an expression of the irreconcilable class antagonisms which are constantly tearing capitalist society apart.

Marxists hold the view that the state is a repressive force and by its nature rests on naked violence. Pacifists, however, reject this view, despite centuries of experience which unequivocally demonstrate that in every great crisis of society, in every case where the oppressed masses have challenged the ruling class, force has been used as the instrument to subdue and suppress the masses.

At the same time, the ruling classes have always insisted that the masses be imbued with pacifism, prayer and nonviolence as a means of continuing their monstrous oppression and exploitation.

Marx demonstrated that "force is the midwife to every great social revolution." Even political revolutions, that is, revolutions for independence and national sovereignty which may only change the form of state, are also accompanied by violence. It should be remembered that both revolutions in the U.S. -- the one for independence as well as the Civil War which was a social revolution that changed the form of property relations, i.e., from chattel slavery to wage slavery -- came as the result of the revolutionary use of violence.

Lenin carried on a relentless struggle against not only the pacifism of non-Marxists in general, that is, bourgeois pacifism in all its varieties, but also against those who subscribed to socialist doctrine and in a general way adhered to Marxism, but had abandoned its revolutionary content.

The latter abandoned Marxism when the bourgeoisie launched the first imperialist world war, a period of great social and political crisis, when the bourgeoisie got the upper hand over the working class. In addition to taking millions of lives, that war wrought havoc in the working-class movement and for a period of time blotted out revolutionary class consciousness and proletarian internationalism in Europe and elsewhere. Drawing on this tragic but vital experience, Lenin brought back to light Marx's conception that the capitalist state is an instrument of suppression no matter what form it takes, whether that of a bourgeois democracy, a monarchy, or a military or fascist dictatorship.

World War I proved that it didn't matter whether the form of state was a czarist autocracy like in Russia, a limited monarchy, as in Germany, a full-fledged bourgeois democracy like in France, or a military form of rule as in Turkey.

Finally, the war disclosed that force on a huge scale is not an accidental factor in the evolution of capitalist society. On the contrary capitalist war is a function of the capitalist state, which in turn is the executive organ of the ruling class. Just as in the human anatomy there is no vital organ without a function, so it is in the social organism of capitalism. The capitalist state is a vital organ in the sociological anatomy of capitalist society, and one of its main functions is the waging of capitalist war.

Why do capitalist governments launch destructive wars? Pacifists say it is because they lack reasonable men in government or because they lack moral values, clarity of aims, political foresight, or intellectual acumen. All these things may be part and parcel of and accompany the development and prosecution of a capitalist war. But these are not the driving forces of war. They are merely superficial aspects of the war.

What drives the capitalists to war is the very nature of their social system, a system based on the wresting of super-profits from the hides of the workers and oppressed, that is, capitalist exploitation and imperialist oppression.

The pacifists deny that these grow organically out of the social system. Marxists, however, proceed on the basis that the politics of the capitalist system cannot be separated from the economics of the system. Capitalist exploitation and oppression of the workers and oppressed people at home make exploitation and oppression abroad an inseparable and indispensable necessity. The two are tied together in one knot and any attempt to separate them can only result in a fatal, bankrupt anti-war policy which by its misleading tactics really facilitates the prosecution of capitalist war rather than stops it.

Nevertheless it is false to say that Marxists and pacifists cannot work together against capitalist war in such areas as are possible and permissible for both.

There are, however, times in the anti-war struggle when it becomes painfully clear that the Marxist approach, notwithstanding the participation of Marxists, progressive workers, and militants of many varieties, is completely drowned out by pacifist propaganda. In fact, Marxists can even forget their Marxism in the course of some exciting and impressive anti-war demonstrations against a developing war. Even some of the most advanced and class-conscious workers can become overwhelmed by an imperialist ideological and political onslaught that utilizes some international incident like the downing of the KAL spy plane to ignite, spread, and cultivate a spirit of jingoism and chauvinism.

It is important to go over at least two examples, which stand out as clear as crystal.

The first regards the KAL affair. The totalitarian, political control and monopolization of the means of communication by the Reagan-CIA-military-industrial complex in the early hours and days of September 1983 offers a dramatic and highly significant lesson for the anti-war movement in general and the anti-nuclear forces in particular. Nobody from the sizable anti-nuclear movement was either trying to or was capable of penetrating the imperialist electronic networks or the large capitalist newspapers. When somebody from the anti-nuclear forces was finally given a brief few moments on ABC News Nightline a week after the incident, the position taken was so weak and timid and in fundamental agreement on the alleged basic guilt of the USSR that it really seemed to bolster the fraudulent case put up by the Pentagon and the White House. An article in the New York Times of September 9 by a representative of Nuclear Times magazine was again clearly the type of pro-imperialist dissent which plays into the hands of the Pentagon propaganda machine.

The truth of the matter is that the anti-nuclear movement and the millions upon millions who are opposed to the launching of a nuclear war by the U.S. were left completely leaderless in the most critical hours of this dangerous episode.

Even if the capitalist press were completely closed to them, it could have been possible to rally the movement with their own not inconsiderable independent resources. This, however, was not done. The leadership was completely paralyzed.

It was not only fear that prevented them from doing anything in a moment of great crisis for which they should have been prepared. On the contrary many of them are distinguished by unusual devotion and courage. The paralysis which gripped the leadership was not of a psychological character. The vacillation and indecision were the result of a well-known social phenomenon which particularly manifests itself during periods of acute political crisis when ideology is tested in the crucible of momentous events.

The crisis imperiously demands a definitive stand -- to open a struggle or to stand paralyzed in the face of an unmitigated assault by the very forces of blatant reaction and war which the movement is pledged to struggle against to the end. Why then this social and political paralysis at a time of crisis. It is not only the petty-bourgeois, middle-class character of the movement that is responsible.

Throughout the whole life cycle of capitalism the petty-bourgeoisie has been known to vacillate between the working-class position and the capitalist-imperialist position. In times of great crisis they always gravitate to whichever side appears stronger and more formidable. They also can be progressive during a period when the class struggle is dormant and when they can easily aspire to leadership of the movement.

But with a crucial world issue like the nuclear struggle, the ultimate, insurmountable obstacle is that the petty-bourgeois leadership of the movement leans particularly heavily on and is indissolubly tied to the liberal bourgeoisie, to its political representatives, and occasionally to those liberal bourgeois elements who themselves are leaders in finance and industry and captains of multi-national corporations.

The Harrimans, the Watsons, the Vances, and others have not only formulated policy in administrations considered more "liberal" on world issues, but they represent a formidable, though diminishing, element in the hierarchy of the capitalist establishment. They are always ready to present "peaceful solutions," sometimes quite vociferously. But what they mean is a peaceful imperialist solution. Their umbilical cord to imperialism can never be untied.

Individuals here or there may abandon their own personal interests and loyalty to their class and go over to the side of the oppressed, to the camp of anti-imperialism and socialism. But the class grouping itself, the liberal bourgeoisie as a whole, cannot do this. Even were they to try they would be overridden by the combination of the ever-increasing rightists and ultra-rightists in the capitalist establishment.

The political line of the pacifists is basically an appeal to reason, much like those pleas made in the past, often by some of the most brilliant intellects of their time. The bourgeois liberals however cannot transcend their class grouping, certainly not as a group and not as a class.

The anti-nuclear movement has wholly tied itself to this type of political conception, which is an antediluvian form of pacifism, an 18th-century appeal to reason. As Engels demonstrated in his celebrated Socialism: Utopian and Scientific(Anti-Duhring),[1] the particular reasoning of any age represents the reasoning of a particular class in society. It may be advanced and certainly far more rational than the preceding exploiting class, but it is still, nevertheless, a reflection of basic class interests.

Marx, for instance, refers to Aristotle, the most encyclopedic mind of ancient Greece, the intellectual titan of the ancient world. Why, asks Marx in his analysis of the nature of a commodity, could Aristotle not see that when commodities are exchanged their common denominator (after their use values are abstracted from their concrete form) is disclosed as undifferentiated human labor? Why couldn't a thinker with such an acute and deep insight into so many phenomena see that? Because in a society where slavery was the basis for the existence of the ruling class, such a vision of the equality of labor was impossible.

While this was true for Aristotle in the time of ancient slavery, one would think that many centuries later, during the French and American revolutions and the epoch of the rising bourgeoisie, the notion of equality might possibly have gone beyond being a mere reflection of class interests, that is, the class interests of the bourgeoisie, so that equality would mean social and political equality for all, not just for a particular class.

But did it?

Thomas Jefferson, a great bourgeois revolutionary for his time, went the furthest in pushing the notion of equality as stated in the Declaration of Independence, "All men are created equal." But his position as a slave owner and representative of his class, particularly the Virginian slavocracy, prevented him from going further than purely legal, formal equality for white men. Jefferson produced voluminous writings, many of which deal with science, history, and philosophy. He not only spoke French, German, and Italian but also knew Greek, Latin, and other languages and was one of the most learned men of his age. He nevertheless had this to say regarding slavery in his Notes on Virginia:[2]

To our reproach it must be said that though for a century and a half we have had under our eyes the races of black and of red men, they have never yet been viewed by us as subjects of natural history. I advance it, therefore, as a suspicion only that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and of mind.

Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson are the heroes of the modern liberal bourgeoisie and the Democratic Party, in particular. The Democratic Party still sponsors Jefferson-Jackson Day dinners, particularly during election years, to give itself a liberal image. The modern liberal bourgeoisie in the epoch of imperialism is just as securely tied to its class position as Jefferson or Jackson were to theirs.

For the anti-nuclear movement and for the anti-war movement in general to tie its destiny to the liberal bourgeoisie and its politicians, whose class affinity to the more reactionary elements in the bourgeoisie is becoming ever more secure, makes winning the anti-war struggle by the movement as a whole impossible to achieve. While their dedication and sincerity in opposing the war danger may be beyond question, their actual ability to be effective, to be able to seriously engage in activities, particularly in times of acute crisis, to stop the war, to really fight it tooth and nail, is totally out of the question in light of their ideological and social ties to the bourgeoisie.

The second event we must analyze took place on a now historic date, June 12, 1982, when the city of New York was the scene of the largest anti-war demonstration in the history of the United States. The specifics of the program of the demonstration were directed against the threat of nuclear war and for a freeze on nuclear weapons More immediately, it was to stop the deployment in Europe of Pershing II and cruise missiles and the development of the most threatening of all U.S. weapons, the MX first-strike missile.

The demonstration was widely heralded as the most successful ever. Almost all the capitalist newspapers said that perhaps as many as 500,000-800,000 attended. The more progressive papers and those in the working-class movement gave it almost a million.

But there was an extraordinary aspect to this demonstration that seemed to escape the attention of the organizers and, in particular, the scores of speakers who delivered short messages and greetings during the day-long demonstration. There were perhaps as many as a hundred speakers, and most of them were well aware of what was going on in the world. Yet they omitted to mention (or if they did so it was in such a perfunctory way as to be completely overlooked in all accounts of the event, the war of devastating proportions going on in Lebanon at that very moment.

On that very day there was already in progress one of the cruelest, most barbarous, if not genocidal wars of U.S. imperialism. The fact that the actual fighting was being carried out by its surrogate Israel should have fooled no one. The war was being conducted against one of the most oppressed and persecuted peoples of the century -- the Palestinians. No one could avoid seeing it on television, hearing about it on the radio, or reading the banner headlines in the world or U.S. press.

The first wave of the terrible invasion by the Israelis began on June 5 and continued, with merciless destruction, all the way to June 15-16. An eight-column banner headline in the New York Times of June 7 read, "Big Israeli force invades south Lebanon, sharp fighting with guerrillas reported." Two days later a similar dramatic headline said that now the Israelis were only 15 miles outside Beirut and were using tanks and infantry in an evident attempt to trap and destroy the Palestinians. It was substantially the same on June 12, 13, and 14.

It would have been utterly impossible for any speaker to have denied knowledge of what was going on. The newspapers and the media were full of it worldwide. Yet the speakers, with the possible exception of one or two, all hewed to the bourgeois-pacifist line. They spoke only about the threat of nuclear war and completely closed their eyes to the war that was literally in front of them. It was as though the imperialist architects of this war were not inseparably bound up with the very same imperialist forces that are promoting nuclear war.

All that was really needed was a clear and simple resolution denouncing the U.S.-Israeli war being waged against the Palestinians and the Lebanese. No one would have demanded that the U.S.-Israeli war against the Palestinians and Lebanese be the focus of the demonstration. But a clear denunciation of the war in the form of a resolution could hardly have escaped the attention of the world press, even if the U.S. press tried to hide it.

Showing that this was not an isolated error on the part of the organizers of this demonstration, they failed to take note of and denounce another imperialist war which was reaching a dramatic climax almost at the same time. On the same day, the reactionary British government, with its mighty nuclear fleet, was carrying on a terrible war of destruction in its effort to retake its colonial possession, the Malvinas Islands, from Argentina.

There was hardly any comment in the radical press on the failure of the anti-nuclear movement to condemn the ghastly Beirut massacres of a whole people. Most treated the war and the nuclear issue as totally separate developments, as though one had little to do with the other. What imperialism was doing with its right hand seemed to be of no concern or of little relevance to what it was doing with its left hand. It was as though the violence were from two separate sociological and political entities.

For example, a long article in the social democratic newspaper In These Times of June 30-July 13 by David Moberg analyzing the demonstration was full of effusive praise of the unity and solidarity shown. The article did not contain a word about the contradiction between letting imperialism mercilessly destroy the lives and homes of an oppressed people while expounding the main theme of the protest -- the growing nuclear danger and support for a nuclear freeze. There was no word about the struggle of the besieged people of Palestine or the Arabs in general.

The Guardian, which styles itself as an independent radical newsweekly, in an editorial in its June 23 issue called the demonstration a "historic turning point." In what way was it really a turning point? It was historic in that it was so huge. But what about its effectiveness in light of its clear avoidance of one of the most monstrous examples of imperialist slaughter? The Guardian failed to mention the glaring discrepancy that such a huge anti-war demonstration could take place in the midst of a genocidal imperialist war and never even mention that it was going on. Covering the story of the horrors of the Mideast war by shunting it off to a separate and less significant part of the paper was a cop-out. Doing it that way was like creating two different compartments out of the same imperialist pattern and cultivating the pernicious illusion that one had nothing to do with the other. This is precisely what the imperialist bourgeoisie had assiduously drummed into the heads of the masses during that long horrendous week.

It is no accident that the Guardian also became overwhelmed by bourgeois prejudice in the spy plane episode. Their editorial in the September 14, 1983, issue repeated many of the arguments of the capitalist media, calling the incident a "double tragedy" and attacking the Soviet Union for what it claimed to be a "completely uncalled for reaction." Their position amounted to a complete capitulation to Reaganite reaction in the midst of this ominous war crisis. The fact that the Guardian, In These Times, and a whole slew of other so-called progressives took their cue from the ruling class proves again that Marx was right -- the prevailing ideas of any time are the ideas of the ruling class.

Of course, it was very important that the June 12 demonstration be vigorously supported by all progressives and Marxists with an independent anti-imperialist working-class line. It was, however, a thoroughly bourgeois pacifist demonstration which proved to be entirely harmless to the Pentagon's plans for war. And, sure enough, it was only some months later that the Democratic-controlled House as well as the Republican-controlled Senate passed the necessary appropriations for the development of the dreaded MX first-strike missile, whose defeat had been a key point in the program of this giant peace demonstration.

The coordinators and the speakers at June 12 not only completely separated capitalist politics from capitalist economics and imperialist foreign policy from reactionary domestic policy, but they carried on a rhetorical exercise with many dearly beloved peace platitudes and empty abstractions. Lo and behold, even some of the reactionaries and avowed warmongers later either appropriated these phrases or gave them a particular twist so that whatever meaning they had was lost.

To separate imperialist policy in arms control from imperialism and the subjugation of oppressed peoples by the most cruel force was clearly the tragic policy of the organizers and coordinators of the demonstration. While the murderous bombing was going on and the speech-making was taking place before a huge demonstration in Central Park, eight imperialist leaders were gathering at precisely the same time in Paris in one of their annual meetings. The heads of state of the U.S., Britain, France, West Germany, Canada, Japan, Belgium, and Italy were meeting in secret and only letting out just enough of what in their view the public should know.

There in Paris they agreed that the Israelis should pull back somewhat from their assault on the Lebanese and Palestinian people so as to make room for their multi-national imperialist force to enter the area, replace the Israeli invaders and push them somewhat into the background. These imperialist brigands needed a multilateral force for their own predatory interests in this small country of Lebanon, which was reduced to rubble only because of their imperialist interests.

The leader of this imperialist caravan was of course to be the Reagan administration. Later on, the Socialist -- what a tortured word it has become! -- Mitterrand was to begin massive airlifting of paratroopers to the small African country of Chad. There the U.S. had taken upon itself a so-called mercy mission of protecting the Chadians against supposed aggression from Libya. It did so with a huge naval armada steaming near the Gulf of Sidra and giant AWACS spy planes flying into Egypt and the Sudan aimed against the rebellious Chadians as well as the Libyans.

The purpose of all this was to strengthen the ties among the imperialists for the next phase of the struggle in Lebanon. Clearly the imperialists had made it their task to either partition the country or take it over completely by force of arms.

But what happened thereafter should be as illuminating to the pacifists, Social-Democrats of all stripes, and progressives generally, as it was so onerous and oppressive for the Lebanese people against whom the so-called U.S. peace-keeping force was aimed. The "peace-keepers" finally unmasked themselves, together with the French, and opened fire on the Lebanese people on September 7, 1983. The dazed U.S. Marines who were assured, as was the U.S. public, that this was a peace-keeping mission, were finally brought to reality when the Lebanese people returned the fire.

The Marines might well have said, as did the mythical cartoon character Pogo, "We have discovered the enemy. It is us."

Not only the Marines, but the U.S. capitalist establishment and the public at large were finally given the first real opening to see with their own eyes that the U.S. government was again at war without a declaration by Congress as expressly stated in the Constitution.

We thus see that what was happening at the time of the June 12 demonstration was a war for the recolonization of the Malvinas, an imperialist-instigated war against the Palestinians and the Lebanese, a U.S.-French operation in Chad, and at the same time an intervention and blockade of Central America. Never to be forgotten, and almost always underplayed, are the tremendous events also going on in southern Africa, Namibia, besieged Angola, Mozambique, and Ethiopia.

Are not these imperialist wars, which the bourgeoisie and the capitalist press refer to as local wars, intimately connected and indissolubly bound up with the preparation for nuclear war against the USSR? Did not the so-called local wars of 1912 in the Balkans lead to World War I, a war for colonial booty and division of markets among the imperialist powers?

Did not World War I demonstrate that the struggle which the imperialist powers carry on abroad is inseparably connected to and really an extension of the same war which these very imperialists carry on in the form of the class struggle against the workers and oppressed at home?

All theories must pass the crucial test of experience. Experience alone is the true test of the scientific validity of any theoretical proposition.

Two significant developments, two really momentous events -- the war against Lebanon and the Korean spy plane episode -- two phases in the world struggle of imperialism against the oppressed people and the socialist countries proved the utter inability of the pacifist, neo-social-democratic leaders to rise to the occasion, to be an effective instrument in the struggle, or even to show signs of resistance on a modest scale. The movement as a whole, composed of many, many millions, must be distinguished from the leaders.

The divorce of leaders from the progressive elements of society and their capture by the insidious forces of big business and high finance is one of the elements born of the antagonistic character of the class contradictions in capitalist society.

Should the working class and oppressed fall prey to and become followers of the bourgeois, neo-social-democratic trend even before they have the opportunity to reinvigorate themselves and rise from a debilitating capitalist crisis, it would be a tragic repetition of the experience of the Second International in its hour of great crisis.

Right up to the last moment, practically on the eve of the outbreak of World War I, the leaders of the Second International were meeting and discussing what to do in the light of the ultimatum which the Austrians gave to the Serbians demanding a complete capitulation. Even as the German, French, and Russian armies were beginning to move, nothing but paralysis seemed to reign supreme in this body of leaders whom the working class of a whole continent had endowed with its confidence in the struggle against imperialist war. They did not take the necessary action to oppose by legal and illegal means the thoroughly mendacious, thoroughly anti-human unleashing of a holocaust whose effects were to continue for generations.

It was to Lenin's great credit that he led his party in an opposite direction, in the direction of urging the masses not only to oppose the war but to call it by its right name. The other leaders of the Second International failed to do this, as do their counterparts today.

Why did the Second International end up in ruins?

Certainly among the most important reasons is the fact that, notwithstanding that they stood at least in words on the platform of working-class struggle, they failed to see that the only antidote to an imperialist war is the development of a class war, and that a class war in the midst of an imperialist war inevitably means defeating the armies of the ruling class by overturning its rule. This the leaders of the Second International had agreed to in words, as late as two years before the First World War broke out.

Where Lenin's more profound understanding of the class struggle and of imperialism in general proved itself superior was where he went beyond both the pacifism of bourgeois liberals as well as the pacifism of the various socialist parties on the European continent. In his view, the imperialist war was just a continuation of imperialist politics by other (violent) means. While not for a moment abandoning any type of peaceful demonstrations against the war, he resolutely and with determination pushed his own formula for a solution to the imperialist war: "A revolutionary class in a reactionary war cannot but desire the defeat of its own (capitalist) government. The defeat of one's own government in an imperialist war is the lesser evil." Only in that way can there be a real fraternization collectively of the workers in the imperialist countries against the war.

Just as energetically, however, Lenin relentlessly agitated for and defended the correctness of a revolutionary war of the oppressed people and urged revolutionary defeatism by the workers in the oppressing imperialist countries. He urged upon the workers in the oppressing imperialist countries fraternal support and anti-imperialist solidarity, up to and including revolutionary measures that would facilitate the defeat of the imperialist government.

A century of imperialist struggle has not invalidated but really confirmed the correctness of the principled, revolutionary Marxist-Leninist tactics and strategical approach. Local conditions and temporary lulls in the class struggle may necessitate a diversity of different tactical approaches. They must, however, be in harmony with the principled revolutionary working-class position of anti-imperialist struggle.

What is the social content of imperialist aggression? It is for super-profits at home and abroad. It is the congenital drive of the bourgeoisie for super-exploitation which is the source of the super-profits.

For popular consumption and to deceive the masses, the struggle for markets, sources of raw materials, and conditions favorable for super-exploitation is often masked in idealistic terms as a mission to repel aggression or to "democratize" this or that country. But more often than not these days it is put in naked military terms.

Does this not explain why retired Admiral Elmo Zumwalt demanded of a Congressional hearing in blunt terms that "We need aircraft carriers for the Third World and nuclear submarines against the Soviet Union"?

It should be noted that Congress, notwithstanding the anti-nuclear movement and the anti-war sentiment of the majority of the people, granted to the military not only funds for the further development of the MX missile but also the major weapons system known as the B-1 bomber and the even more costly Trident nuclear submarine.

Of course, Congress has on occasion postponed one weapons system in favor of another. The hidden cause behind the change is usually not due to any swift changes in public opinion but to the fact that one group of weapons systems manufacturers has gotten the upper hand over another and has gotten the blessings of the Pentagon, which in turn has manipulated the necessary votes in the Congress.

These giant multi-national monopolies are more powerful than any ancient empire ever was. There are even few modern imperialist states that can rival the power of one of the dynastic finance capitalist groupings which bankroll the various weapons systems. They relentlessly milk the U.S. Treasury which in turn passes on its losses to the masses of the working class and oppressed.

If the struggle against imperialist war is to become serious, it must take on a working-class character. That doesn't mean to narrow the appeal, as capitalist politicians maintain. On the contrary, it means to broaden it, for it is the working class and the oppressed people together with the lower middle class that constitute the majority in any case.

Taking on a working-class character means that the fundamental aim of the anti-war struggle is not merely against the military-industrial complex, but also the defense contractors and the big banks, as well as the giant oil corporations. In a word, the struggle against imperialist war must be conducted as an all-around classwide struggle against the bourgeoisie. Only a real class war can stop an imperialist war and has the material basis for winning the allegiance of all the oppressed and exploited masses.


1. Frederick Engels, "Socialism: Utopian and Scientific," Karl Marx and Frederick Engels: Selected Works (Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1970), Vol. 3, pp. 95-151. [return]

2. Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia (New York: Harper and Row, 1964). [return]

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