The following statement was issued by supporters of the League for the Revolutionary Party (LRP-COFI) on November 4, 2001. It has subsequently been reprinted in the LRP-COFI pamphlet, The Politics of War.

What’s Wrong with the
“New York City Labor Against the War” Statement?

Since October 7, the U.S. has been mercilessly attacking the people of Afghanistan. Despite the claim of selective bombing, undoubtedly Washington is now killing more innocent Afghans than the official reports admit. And the murderous, interventionary goals of imperialism hardly stop in Afghanistan. The “war on terrorism” aims to repress working people around the world who are rightfully angered by deepening exploitation.

An added tragedy is that working class and oppressed people in the United States are being convinced to support these imperialist attacks under the cover of “justice” and “democracy.” While the terrorist attack of September 11 was truly horrific, the capitalists and their politicians have hoisted up the “red, white and blue” in order to manipulate the just outrage of the working class against this atrocity. In this they are helped in no small measure by their lapdogs, the treacherous AFL-CIO leaders who support the war. It is no accident that this “patriotic” war is already being used as a cover for mass layoffs, wage freezes and cutbacks against American workers. Special attacks against Arab-Americans, immigrant workers and all people of color are already being launched. There is far worse in store. The attacks on workers and oppressed abroad will go hand in hand with more attacks on the working class and the oppressed at home.

Given the current wave of pro-imperialist anti-worker patriotism, nothing could be more welcome than a strong voice of opposition from within the labor movement. Unfortunately the “New York City Labor Statement Against the War” is no such thing. Hundreds of unionists in New York and elsewhere in the country have signed it, and it seeks to find “an alternative to war.” However, it is really an argument for the imperialists to wage their war with a more appealing camouflage.

As revolutionary workers, we favor building broad united actions against the war where everyone can participate regardless of their political views as long as they are against the war. This coalition on the other hand has adopted what amounts to a pro-war view in the guise of a supposedly unified political opposition to the current U.S.-led attack.

The labor statement starts by attacking the September 11 massacre as a “crime against humanity.” It also notes that the U.S. has “already inflicted widespread suffering on innocent people in such places as Iraq, Sudan, Israel and the Occupied Territories, the former Yugoslavia and Latin America.” But it simply refuses to draw the obvious conclusion: U.S. imperialism can therefore not be called upon to carry out any kind of campaign for “justice”!

Rather, the statement attempts to skirt the issue of imperialism completely, when this is the central issue at stake. In supposed counterposition to this war, it calls for “JUSTICE, NOT VENGEANCE. An independent international tribunal to impartially investigate, apprehend and try those responsible for the September 11 attack.”

This is a call for punishing the September 11 criminals. There is no call to punish the ruling class of the United States, the far greater terrorists who have slaughtered millions. And this omission is in a statement that is supposed to be an attack against the war being waged by those very same U.S. rulers!

An “Independent” Tribunal?

And why use a slogan implying that genuine justice can be served by the U.S. authorities? Ah, comes the reply, we don’t do that at all – we call for an “independent international tribunal” to “apprehend” the foreign terrorists and carry out impartial justice. But that is nothing but a dodge. There is only one armed force on Earth at the moment capable of apprehending the armed terrorists, and that is the same imperialist force now devastating Afghanistan. Various establishment legal centers in the U.S. are now advising Bush to use an international apparatus of one sort or another as a smokescreen for his present war. Most workers reading the labor statement would rightfully assume that it too is urging Washington to promise to turn bin Laden & Co. over to an international tribunal, decorated with “independent” and supposedly impartial judges from around the world.

Clearly a war is necessary to apprehend the terrorists, so the statement is really calling for Washington to fight a war under a more plausible cover. The civil service paper, The Chief, interviewed Jill Levy, Council of Supervisors and Administrators President and one of the statement’s leading signers, who made this clear: “Ms. Levy said that she supported targeted military forays into Afghanistan aimed at the bin Laden forces. But she opposed a full-scale war involving U.S. ground troops ...” (October 26.)

Of course, different proponents of the tribunal proposal give different interpretations of what the vaguely-worded statement calls for. But all roads lead back to U.S. imperialism. Some point to U.N. sponsored tribunals, but after all the Security Council, the only U.N. body authorized to take such a step, is dominated by the imperialist powers. So is the International War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague.

Others call for a new international tribunal made up of jurists from non-imperialist countries – as if the U.S. would ever yield its powers to oppressed countries. The reality is that any “independent” international tribunal that could be formed today would be dependent on the apprehenders, the imperialist warmakers. The idea that imperialism would permit a genuinely independent tribunal rather than a cover is not simply wrong, it is an absurd farce.

If one wants to pose a real alternative to the current war, there should be a call for building an independently mobilized international working-class movement. But the Labor Against the War authors don’t point to such a goal. Obviously, the struggle for such an alternative would have to begin with a fight against the pro-war labor bureaucracy. But the statement doesn’t do that either. Leaving “justice” in the hands of the powers-that-be is no justice at all.

Pacifism Is No Answer

The statement’s first demand reads: “NO WAR. It is wrong to punish any nation or people for the crimes of individuals – peace requires global social and economic justice.” How is “global social and economic justice” to be achieved? By default, the implication is that the current system, capitalist imperialism, could provide it – if only it would carry out a different policy. In reality, imperialism requires superexploitation and oppression of much of the world in order to function. It cannot be reformed to be just. As well, the statement can only mean that “peace” is the alternative to “war” right now. But it is an illusion to think there can ever be peace under the imperialism system.

Today’s world is inevitably a world of war. As revolutionaries, we believe in openly convincing our fellow workers that there is an answer to imperialist war. That alternative means turning the struggle in the direction of class war at home, and linking that with the struggles of our brothers and sisters abroad. The capitalists are already waging a covert class war at home and a more naked war abroad. The truth is that peace is not possible under imperialism, but will only be achieved with its overthrow through international socialist revolution led by working-class Marxist parties.

The majority of American workers today, who are hardly Marxists and mostly patriotic, are in for an awful awakening as the war goes on. They will see through the flag-waving hype and understand more and more that their main enemy is their own ruling class. But they will never be won to vague calls for “peace” as an answer to murderous attacks. They correctly regard pacifism as absurd. The point is to guide workers’ anger and willingness to fight back against the most fundamental enemy, U.S. imperialism. But the labor statement provides no service to the cause of building a fighting working class movement at all.

To begin to unite the working class today, increasingly powerful mass demonstrations need to be built against the war without demanding any kind of political agreement in advance, other than opposition to the war. Demanding agreement in advance with any particular set of political views is the wrong way to build genuine united actions today. We propose instead that unionists simply agree to call demonstrations welcoming – and democratically offering a voice to – all those who oppose Bush’s war. The struggle itself will prove which view is correct.

Unity in Action, Freedom of Discussion!
For the Broadest Possible Workers’ United Action Against the War!
Stop the Imperialist War!