SPGB Socialist Opposition To War - The War In Iraq: What Would You Do?

During the war in Afghanistan, Harold Evans, former editor of the SUNDAY TIMES, and Anne McElvoy, the INDEPENDENT columnist, asked those who opposed the war in Afghanistan: "what would you do when faced with terrorism?" Both claimed not to hear an answer. The same question has been put to those who oppose the war in Iraq.

One reason for this "silence" is that Socialists are not allowed to state the socialist case against war in the media. Pro-war journalists would not hear an answer to their question because the newspaper owners and their editors prevented them and the readers from hearing one.

In Canada, for example, Canwest, owned by Israel Asper, owns over 130 newspapers, including 14 city dailies and one of the country's largest papers, the National Post. His kept-journalists have attacked anyone who dares to criticise the state terrorism of Israel against the Palestinians (INDEPENDENT, 17.Dec.02). When the US anti-war campaigner, Noam Chomsky spoke to a packed audience at St Paul's Cathedral against the US's proposed war against Iraq there was a news black-out. Newspapers are full of the drip-drip of propaganda emanating from the White House and Westminster. Most journalists believe everything and question nothing. They are "on- message" and "on-side".

Political extremists like the Libertarian Alliance and the Washington-based Heritage Institute have open access to the BBC to put their case for supporting capitalism or bombing countries back to the Stone Age. But when it comes to Socialist ideas the drawbridge goes up. Greg Dyke, the Director General, claims that he wants to be "inclusive" in giving political groups representation (the BNP had a lot of air time during the May 2001 local elections), but it appears to be inclusive of everyone but SPGB. SPGB is not allowed to voice its opposition to the war in Iraq on any television news channel or radio programme.

Socialists are not invited to explain our unique principled opposition to war. We are not allowed to explain that the working class has no interest in war because they neither own and control the means of production and distribution nor own oil fields, trade routes and communication systems.

And we do have a case. There is evidence to support our argument that, like the previous Gulf war, a decade ago, and this war is basically about the control of oil resources. Here is Robert Fisk, an American colleague of Ms McElvoy, a journalist who actually has been to the killing fields of Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. This is what he wrote about the "war on terror":

"Across the former Soviet southern Muslim republics, America is building airbases, helping to pursue the "war on terror" against any violent Muslim Islamist groups that dare to challenge the local dictators. Please do not believe this is about oil. Do not for a moment think that these oil and gas-rich lands have any economic importance for the oil-fuelled Bush administration. Nor the pipelines that could run from northern Afghanistan to the Pakistani coast if only that pesky Afghan loya jirga could elect a government that would give concessions to Unocal, the oddly named concession whose former boss just happens to be a chief Bush "adviser" to Afghanistan" (INDEPENDENT 25.05.02).

Now it is the oil fields in Iraq. Iraq posses the world's second-largest proven oil reserve, estimated at 112.5 billion barrels, or 11% of the world's total oil reserves. In addition, many oil analysts believe that Iraq has massive untapped reserves, putting it nearly on a par with Saudi Arabia. Iraq's oil is also high quality and very inexpensive to produce. According to one industry expert, "There is not an oil company in the world that doesn't have its eye on Iraq" (FOREIGN POLICY IN FOCUS, September 2002).

Representatives of major US oil companies have been meeting with Iraqi opposition leaders. Ahmed Chalabi, leader of one of the main opposition groups, told the WASHINGTON POST that "American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil" (September 2002).

You will not, however, find many journalists in the main newspapers saying that the war in Iraq is a war about oil. Socialists are not given any forum within the mass media to refute the arguments of our opponents. Socialists are not allowed to state our case in the media that the war in Iraq is about oil, that it is nothing about freedom and democracy or stopping the production of so-called "weapons of mass destruction". We are not allowed to tell the working class in the media that this war has nothing to do with their class interests. Workers have no country. They have no strategic points to protect, no resources to defend, no trade routes to fight over. In short, the conduits of communication through which Socialists can channel our Socialist ideas are severely limited. When Socialists face the capitalist media it is like spitting into the wind.

Workers have no country to fight for.

Of course the question posed by Evans and McElvoy can be traced back to George Orwell. Orwell asked those who opposed the Second World War what would they do if the Germans invaded Britain? For Socialists the answer was to carry on putting the case for Socialism as best as possible. For, unlike Orwell who erroneously believed he had a stake in British capitalism, Socialists knew they had no country to fight for.

This did not stop the journalist D J Taylor trying to rephrase Orwell's remarks for a post-September 11th world. He wrote:

"If your enemy is prepared to use terrorist tactics to blow up thousands of innocent civilians, what steps are you prepared to take in your defence? If, in addition, your country harbours thousands of citizens who actively support this action, what are you going to do about it? These, you feel, are the kinds of questions Orwell would have been asking last autumn, and it is worth pointing out that no-one on the anti-war left has yet got round to answering them" (NEW STATESMAN 20 May. O2).

Well, Socialists had an answer in 1914 which we repeated again in September 1939, and one which we hold today.

"Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of Socialism"

The main form of communication for Socialists is the written word. In our recent pamphlet "CAPITALISM CAUSES WAR and TERRORISM" we set out the Socialist case against the war in Afghanistan. We showed that the US and its allies are part of the problem and not the solution. We would like to publicly debate those who support the war in Iraq to show their lies, evasions and propaganda.

While Socialists reject the use of individual terrorism we also oppose State terrorism. What the US and its allies inflicted on Afghanistan was State terrorism, an act of unmitigated barbarism, a warning of future wars if the working class does not fast establish Socialism. This same terrorism will be used against Iraq. Cluster bombs, daisy cutters, smart missiles will be unleashed in acts of terror killing men, women and children. The aim will be to demoralise and terrorise the population. Civilian death and destruction will be written off as "collateral damage". There will be lies about the missiles that go off target just as there were in other wars.

It is a mistake to suppose that you can have capitalism without war and terrorism. You cannot have poison without the effects of poison. You cannot have capitalism without the effects of capitalism.

Their question also presumes that Western capitalism holds some moral high ground to which we should all defer. This is imperial arrogance. Capitalism is turned into a Western where the good guys (US and Britain) wear the white hat and get the girl while the Taliban and Bin Laden are the baddies who wear the black hats and don't shave.

Socialists draw no moral distinction between one capitalist country and another. They all have killing machines and capitalist politicians ready to use them. When George Bush asserts "you are either for the coalition against terrorism or against", Socialists say we are against both the state terrorism of George Bush and the private terrorism of Bin Laden and his supporters. We have no illusions about the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, but we know that it is not democracy the US wants when it calls for a "regime change" in Iraq but access and control over the oilfields.

Socialists do not takes sides in disputes between different sections of the capitalist class. Bush wanted to secure oil interests for the US. It is no secret. In a congressional testimony in 1999, General Anthony Zinni, then commander of the US Central Command which includes the Middle East and Central Asia, stated in congressional testimony (April 13, 1999) that the Gulf Region, with its huge oil reserves, is a "vital interest" of "long standing" for the US, and that the US "must have free access to the region's resources". That was the position of the US government in 1999, before Bush became President, his long term connection with the oil companies who helped finance his election campaign means that it is their interests which dominates US foreign policy.

The Western Alliance is part of the problem in a world divided up into competing nation states constantly at odds with each other. The US spends 40 per cent of the total expenditure of "defence" in the world, some $36 bn (OBSERVER 10. Feb.02). American capitalism has to protect its interests. It wants to remain top dog. And that interest is best served by having the most sophisticated, hi-tech, mass killing armaments possible to give it an overwhelming advantage over other rival nation states.

Work for Socialism!

So why do Socialists urge workers not to get involved in the disputes of the capitalist class and their political agents? We offer three reasons.

First, terrorism, national conflict and war are caused by capitalism. Capitalism is about competition, the drive for profit and the exploitation of the world's working class. Until you confront and tackle the capitalist cause the problem remains. This applies to terrorism and war just as it applies to poverty and unemployment.

Second, the working class do not own raw resources, strategic points of influence and trade routes. They have nothing to fight over. Owning no means and methods of production, to quote the COMMUNIST MANIFESTO, "workers have no country". All workers possess is their ability to sell their labour power or ability to work on the market for a wage or a salary. Workers in Britain, therefore, have more in common with workers in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya than they do with the owners of the SUNDAY TIMES, INDEPENDENT, THE OBSERVER or the NEW STATESMAN. Workers have no national enemy, only a class enemy.

And third, working class consciousness and internationalism are not helped by the divisiveness of nationalism, always aggravated in times of war. It is precisely because the working class bear the brunt of capitalism's problems that they should become socialists. This can only be achieved by persuasion. To abolish capitalism requires the conscious political action of a Socialist majority. You cannot force workers to become Socialists. Yet the consequences of workers not becoming Socialists is continued conflict, terrorism and war.

Terrorism is generated by capitalism. War is caused by capitalism. While capitalism remains social reforms to prevent conflict will fail. The failure of the United Nations as an institution designed to prevent war is demonstrated by the fact that it is itself involved in war, as it was in the Korean War, long ago.

For socialism to be possible there first has to exist a class conscious socialist majority who actively understand and desire Socialism. The function of Socialists is to make socialists by presenting a practical case against capitalism. The first step is for workers to recognise why capitalism causes insoluble social problems like war and terrorism and why it can never be made to run in their interests. The second step is to take the necessary class conscious, democratic political action to replace capitalism with Socialism.

People who are at the forefront of urging a policy of war against terrorists are not those who have to fight. When asked to fight for his beliefs during the war in Serbia, the journalist, David Aaronovitch, a Tony Blair cheerleader at the INDEPENDENT, constantly refused. He didn't mind supporting other people doing the killing and he did not have to clear up the mess of dead men, women and children referred to euphemistically as "collateral damage". Journalists and politicians cheer on "surgical strikes" from the safety of their armchairs. They enjoy war by proxy.

So what should a worker he or she is asked "what would you do?" The action of any reasonable worker reflecting on their own class interests should be to say "I will work for Socialism". The aim of our propaganda is to help in that political process.

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Object and Declaration of Principles


The establishment of a system of society based upon the common ownership and democratic control of the means and instruments for producing and distributing wealth by and in the interest of the whole community.

Declaration of Principles


1. That society as at present constituted is based upon the ownership of the means of living (ie land, factories, railways, etc.) by the capitalist or master class, and the consequent enslavement of the working class, by whose labour alone wealth is produced.

2. That in society, therefore, there is an antagonism of interests, manifesting itself as a class struggle, between those who possess but do not produce and those who produce but do not possess.

3.That this antagonism can be abolished only by the emancipation of the working class from the domination of the master class, by the conversion into common property of society of the means of production and distribution, and their democratic control by the whole people.

4. That as in the order of social evolution the working class is the last class to achieve its freedom, the emancipation of the working class will involve the emancipation of all mankind without distinction of race or sex.

5. That this emancipation must be the work of the working class itself.

6. That as the machinery of government, including the armed forces of the nation, exists only to conserve the monopoly by the capitalist class of the wealth taken from the workers, the working class must organise consciously and politically for the conquest of the powers of government, national and local, in order that this machinery, including these forces, may be converted from an instrument of oppression into the agent of emancipation and the overthrow of privilege, aristocratic and plutocratic.

7. That as all political parties are but the expression of class interests, and as the interest of the working class is diametrically opposed to the interests of all sections of the master class, the party seeking working class emancipation must be hostile to every other party.

8. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties, whether alleged labour or avowedly capitalist, and calls upon the members of the working class of this country to muster under its banner to the end that a speedy termination may be wrought to the system which deprives them of the fruits of their labour, and that poverty may give place to comfort, privilege to equality, and slavery to freedom.