Criticism of internationalist anti-war statement by the International Bolshevik Tendancy

Criticism of this anti-war statement distributed at an anti-Iraq war demo in January 2003 by the International Bolshevik Tendancy. A reply by Red and Black Notes can be found here.

Submitted by Fall Back on July 11, 2009

Reprinted below are excerpts from a statement distributed at an anti-war protest in Toronto on 18 January from "an informal group of people in Toronto of varying perspectives (anarchist, communist and others)" associated with a local leftist bookstore. Followed by the IBT reply.

Against Capitalist War! Against Capitalist Peace!
Class Struggle Against the Work/War Machine!

As the Iraqi death toll from the UN-sanctioned economic embargo – a particularly devastating weapon of mass destruction – is calculated in seven digit figures, the US military mobilizes over 150,000 personnel for an invasion of Iraq. With seemingly no sense of irony, the greatest possessor of weapons of mass destruction in the history of humanity, has characterized its imperialist drive to dominate the world’s oil reserves as a moral crusade to disarm Saddam Hussein of deadly weapons. With the nationalistic/racist frenzy whipped up in the aftermath of September 11 still lingering, the US government is confident that it will encounter nothing more than superficial resistance against its genocidal war.

War is an expression of capitalist competition. In the drive to accumulate profits, secure markets, control resources and human labour, capitalists compete with one another on a global scale. Rather than being an anomaly in an otherwise peaceful system, warfare is an inherent and very normal aspect of capitalist relations. In fact, capitalism could not survive without war.

The anti-war demonstrations in Toronto, for the most part, have been organized by the Coalition to Stop the War (CSW), out of which the Toronto Coalition Against Sanctions and War on Iraq (TCASWI) is the most visually active. The CSW/TCASWI coalition is a cross-class alliance made up of social democrats, religious leaders, pacifists, union bureaucrats and other class enemies of workers. Far from opposing the political, social and economic structures that make war (i.e. capitalism), TCASWI advocates the reactionary/pacifist position that capitalist society can exist without war – in other words a capitalist peace. They claim that petitioning (often literally) Canadian rulers to alter their imperialist ways is the only possible course [of] action to end war (and have even displayed hostile discomfort with others who have opted for more confrontational forms of opposition).

In supposed opposition to the overtly pro-capitalist CSW/TCASWI, is another ever-present perspective on the Toronto left – that of the ‘leftists’/Trotskyists. The common ideological formula among these tendencies dictates that in any given war the weaker capitalist state/would-be state is actually engaged in an ‘anti-imperialist’ struggle of ‘national defense/liberation’. This strange concept is used to justify blatantly pro-capitalist positions of support for worker-murdering states like Iraq.

In their "Defend Iraq!" statement (Oct 2002) the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) claimed that people must "take sides in conflicts between imperialist predators and their victims", and that the IBT "reject[s] the simplistic equation of Saddam Hussein and George Bush […] as a ‘plague on both your houses’." In effect the IBT militarily defends the Ba’athist regime while affording "no political support to Saddam Hussein" – but what the hell does that mean?

The Trotskyist League (TL, a.k.a Spartacists) makes it a little clearer. In their "Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack!" statement (2002) the TL states that a US led war against Iraq "will be a predatory war of conquest, while on the Iraqi side it will be a just war of national defense. Opponents of imperialist barbarism must take a side: for the military defense of neocolonial Iraq against imperialist attack, while giving no political support whatsoever to the vicious Saddam Hussein regime."

How is such a thing possible? What is the difference between "military defense" and "political support"? Well of course there is none.

International Bolshevik Tendency
Box 332, Adelaide St. Station
Toronto, M5C 1J0

29 January 2003

Uprising Books Without Borders
685 Queen St. West
Toronto, M6J 1E6


Your 18 January leaflet, "Against Capitalist War! Against Capitalist Peace!", raises a question about our position on the pending U.S.-led war against Iraq: "In effect the IBT militarily defends the Ba’athist regime while affording ‘no political support to Saddam Hussein’—but what the hell does that mean?" We are happy to explain.

If you are "politically supporting" an individual or organization it means that you broadly agree with at least some of the ideas, program and perspectives they represent. "Military support" means taking a side in a particular conflict, without necessarily endorsing any or all of the politics or ideology of those you support.

If, for example, a group of anarchists came upon a gang of Nazis attacking a synagogue full of devout Jews, should they refuse to get involved because the congregation’s rabbi is a religious obscurantist or because the synagogue has been fund-raising for the racist Zionist state? Of course not. Any decent person would side with the Jewish congregation (including the rabbi) against the Nazis. This would imply neither an endorsement of Judaic theology nor approval of Israel’s crimes against the Palestinians.

If workers in a union controlled by corrupt bureaucrats go on strike against a vicious corporation, or an aboriginal band council led by self-serving careerists resists a government attempt to expropriate their land, revolutionaries are not neutral. We side with the oppressed against their oppressors regardless of their leadership.

The capitalist world economy operates as a mechanism for extracting wealth from the vast majority of humanity for the benefit of a tiny handful. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between imperialist or oppressor countries (Canada, the U.S., France, Britain, etc.) and neo-colonial or oppressed countries (Jamaica, Lebanon, Colombia, Iraq, etc.). Your description of the U.S.-led crusade as an "imperialist drive to dominate the world’s oil reserves" and a "genocidal war" against the people of Iraq implicitly makes this distinction.

It is true that the pending "war is an expression of capitalist competition," despite the fact that Iraq is not competing with the U.S. The American attempt to seize Iraq’s oil is aimed at increasing its leverage over Japan, Germany, and other imperialist powers. When inter-imperialist competition erupted into military conflict during World Wars I and II, revolutionaries supported neither side and called on workers in both camps to recognize that their main enemy was at home. Marxists do not determine their policy on the basis of the relative strength of the combatants. Workers have no interest in defending weaker imperialist powers (Canada, Belgium or Austria) against stronger ones (U.S., France or Germany). Nor do we take sides in conflicts between neo-colonies, e.g., Iraq vs. Iran in the 1980s, or Iraq vs. Kuwait in 1990. But when U.S. imperialism organized the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in 1961, unleashed contra mercenaries against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua and invaded Grenada and Panama in the 1980s, revolutionaries did take sides.

Should revolutionaries have supported the Irish Republicans’ Easter 1916 Rising aimed at driving out the British? We say yes. When Islamic Jihad blew up the U.S. Marine and French Foreign Legion barracks in Lebanon in 1983, we said that regardless of the politically reactionary character of the indigenous resistance, they had every right to drive the imperialists out of their country. (In that instance we had a rather sharp disagreement with the Spartacist League/TL who shamefully called for saving the surviving Marines—see our Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2.)

In the Spanish Civil war both left-anarchists and Trotskyists took up arms on the side of the Stalinist-dominated popular front Republican government against Franco’s fascistic Nationalists. Yet at the same time, the Trotskyist Bolshevik-Leninists and the anarchist Friends of Durruti, unlike the opportunist left, remained adamantly opposed to the popular front government and actively sought to build a revolutionary movement capable of overthrowing it. Revolutionaries should make an equivalent distinction today and side militarily with Iraq against the imperialist aggressors, while remaining intransigently politically opposed to Saddam Hussein’s bloody regime. This no more means abandoning the perspective of workers’ revolution in Iraq than military support to the Republican government during the Spanish Civil War meant renouncing the fight to overthrow capitalist rule in the Iberian peninsula.

With Communist Greetings,
International Bolshevik Tendency

Red and Black Notes reply can be found here

This article has been archived on from the Against capitalist war, against capitalist peace archive on the Red and Black Notes website.