Where’s the anti-war strategy? A response to Mike Ely

Below is Katy R’s contribution to the discussion on anti-war strategy.  She  responds to

Police formation in response to anti-war protest at the Port of Oakland in April 2003

Mike Ely’s piece on the state of the anti-war movement which we posted below.


I hope I’m not being facile, but it seems to me that regardless of what kind of united front one enters, or whether the slogan on one’s banner calls out economic issues, Obama, or the murder of Iraqis, the anti-war movement loses or gains effectiveness based on other strategic and tactical questions.

It is simply objectively true that we cannot vote, nor march, nor wave signs out of any imperialist war. I believe that deep down, people who are at the very least sympathetic to the anti-war position don’t see the value of participating in any more symbolic sheep-crawls, and for the last several years (with some notable and short-lived exceptions) that has been the face of the anti-war movement.

The only way to stop the wars is to cut off their oxygen supply at strategic choke-points. Concerted shutdowns at ports, preferably by port workers and their allies, along with soldier refusals to deploy and fight, are just the minimum necessary activities. I’m not denying that a critique of the tacit support for “Obama’s war” is necessary, but I believe that drawing a line between so-called real anti-imperialists (people who never fell for the idea of voting for a new capitalist imperialist president, regardless of party) and anti-war progressives who voted for Obama or professed support for his campaign or presidency diverts attention from engaging in effective anti-war action.

It may be true that “both the current wars are kept well below both the pain and awareness threshold for many people here in the U.S.” But people are in pain, and people are aware, if not of the direct suffering of the people of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, then of the way jobs are being lost, services shut down, homes foreclosed, and so on. Drawing the link between these immediate social problems in US communities and the engagement in war and militarism is not, as Ely suggests, a frivolous and self-centered activity. It may be troubling to confront the fact that many people are not motivated to action based on a strict anti-imperialist line, but I would argue that it is less about the line, and more about the actual, objective effectiveness of our tactics that will embolden folks to participate in a revitalized anti-war movement. In other words, I’m more troubled by a rally at the SF Civic Center with an impeccable anti-imperialist message, than a port shutdown that is motivated by the fury over military spending and its impact on our local communities’ economic health.

Ely criticizes the sentiment expressed in the O’Neill/See piece which states, “We need to build activity at the local level that’s easy for people to engage in and doesn’t require signing on to a whole stew of anti-imperialist statements. We also need to bring our bodies and signs to the marches and vigils against budget cutbacks in our communities, instead of just waiting for people to show up at an anti-war rally. We need to make the connections in our messages; ‘Healthcare Not Warfare’ at the rallies on the congressional showdown. ‘Books Not Bombs’ when folks march in defense of public education.” I’m skeptical, too, but for a different reason: it worries me that the question is being boiled down to which “marches and vigils” we should bring our message to. That we are still talking about marches, vigils, and rallies, rather than blockades, occupations, and strikes, is the most worrisome aspect of the whole debate about the anti-war movement.

7 responses to “Where’s the anti-war strategy? A response to Mike Ely

  1. Vivid Visionary

    I don’t see why this was posted in its own right, I think it would have been good to continue the discussion in the Mike Ely piece, but this was well written and deserves a response.

    As far as I understand your argument Katy, you’re saying that the main problem is not necessarily line, but rather the tactics/strategy employed?

    There’s a back and forth relationship between the two, but line here is decisive in my opinion. The question lies in what sort of consciousness are we seeking to develop.

    Because don’t we have a special responsibility, living within the belly of the beast, to expose the crimes of this empire? Doesn’t communist consciousness have, as a central element, the need to identify our interests as deeply connected with the oppressed and exploited around the world (particularly when this oppression and brutality is being waged in our name)?

    If we see the anti-war struggle in the US as primarily one where we should focus on budgetary and economic issues, doesn’t that come from the assumption that the ruling class can divert its resources from war and empire-building to serve our human needs? Don’t get me wrong, I think connecting the two is crucial (as we’ve done at our struggle in Cal Poly), but if we’re going to criticize a war, are we going to do it from the standpoint of OUR economic interests, or the fact that this war is a continuation of hundreds of years of white supremacist conquest and genocide? Which one has the potential for radicalization?

    And if we want to start organizing on the basis of budgetary issues, do you think a radical consciousness develops from this on its own? I think this still doesn’t move beyond “we want ours.” Or does it require the conscious connection between revolutionaries and the people in struggle to bring to the light these crimes?

    Taking a step back, I think a major element in the development of a revolutionary movement in the 60s and 70s (in particular the Black liberation movement) were the Vietnam War, Cuban, Chinese revolutions, etc. These were struggles which deeply radicalized people during these times, and I think its worth it to ask why. I mean, it’s not like Black people were facing more severe economic issues than before which led to a radical consciousness. The entire history of Black people here is one based on economic/political oppression, but why did the Black liberation movement develop in the 60s and not the 30s? Doesn’t it have to do with (yes, connecting the dots between imperialism and domestic cut backs) struggling on the basis of ending this empire and how it connected with national liberation (as the Panthers did) at home and abroad? The debate around national oppression is not for this thread, I think we should keep in mind WHAT radicalized people during those times and why. And what that means for us today.

    These are my thoughts, looking forward to hearing more.

  2. Pingback: A Response to Mike Ely: Where’s the Anti-war Strategy? « Kasama

  3. Why not go for a port shutdown with an impeccable anti-imperialist message? I.e., one that is not mainly motivated by the impact on the local communities’ economic health? I think there is a basis for a strong radical ethics, based on humanism, and internationalism, and anti-Imperialism, but we have to be a strong voice for that high level of thinking that frees people from narrow self-interests, even if these are crucial economic issues.

    Yes, connect to them, but go beyond it…that is the kind of real radicalism we need for an effective anti-war movement that goes beyond just the end of military engagements but strives for real social justice. Tactics that are effective should be pursued, but lets not dumb down the needed radical stance, of standing up against war crimes, and crimes against humanity (even if was profitable, and had no bad economic impact on our communities!)–even if ending the war would have negative economic consequences. We should not be motivated by your communities per se. The whole world comes first!!

  4. This is a crucial discussion. I agree with Mike Ely that one of the main reasons the anti-war movement fell apart was because a large section of it (including Leftists) opted for a popular front with Obama. In fact it started even earlier, when they opted for a popular front with John Kerry. I agree that the perspectives of tendencies like Progressives for Obama are destructive becuase they label as “ultraleft” revolutionaries who attempt to appeal to mass frustration with the war and with Obama’s administration. They automatically assume that popular consciousness is so false that even criticizing Obama will play into the hands of the right rather than help open up new fissures, however small, through which new Left wing movements could grow.
    At the same time, I agree with Katy that the lack of strategic imagination in the anti-war movement is also partly what caused its demise. Protests that focus on the war solely as a moral issue “over there” can be profoundly disappointing because they fail to clarify the strategic leverage points we potentially have right here to stop the war (strikes, port blockades, etc.). That’s why actions like the Port Militarization Resistance in Olympia have been so crucial.
    I agree with Vivid Visionary that there is a back and forth relationship between line and strategy. What perspectives are needed to build a broad based mass minority of people willing to take the kind of militant actions that Katy describes, which could inspire more and more people and work towards building an anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist majority? It seems there are two poles in this debate so far. The first pole is represented by Katy and FRSO’s suggestions to build united fronts by bringing together anti-imperialists and folks who are focused on anti-budget cuts demands (money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation). The second pole is represented by Ely and Vivid’s suggestions that we more directly agitate against US imperialism and expose how Obama is complicit in it. (please correct me if I’m mischaracterizing these positions at all, I read this shit fast on my break at work).
    I’d like to sketch the outline of a third pole, which builds off of and attempts to synthesize the first two. That is, we should focus on ways in which the war affects people here in the U.S., but not in a narrowly economistic way. Instead, we can focus on the political dimensions of the budget cuts and the war and how they are related. In particular, we can focus on how the war contributes to white supremacy and to patriarchal, homophobic, and undemocratic politics here in the U.S. We can confront attacks on Arab and Muslim folks here in the U.S, and can confront how the logic of “national security” and the war on terror have been used to suppress workers organizing, especially in places like ports and airports. We can confront how the war is linked to sexual assault and domestic violence. Certainly we can focus on how “this war is a continuation of hundreds of years of white supremacist conquest and genocide” and can draw links to indigenous struggles and anti-racist struggles here. In our Palestine solidarity organizing, that’s been how folks in Unity and Struggle have attempted to build broader support for anti-imperialist actions and perspectives… we have made these connections through activities such as mosque defense, confronting anti-Muslim bigotry, directly confronting Zionist politicians, imperialist lackey academic programs, etc. All of this can contribute to struggles to gain more direct-democratic control over the institutions here in our own society – workplaces, schools, neighborhoods, etc. – attempting to transform them into places where new social relations can start to emerge. Katy’s tactical suggestions could function as an escalation and expansion of this premise.
    The thing is, the anti-budget cuts movement is also starting to raise these questions of who controls our society, at least for a growing mass minority layer of students and workers who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the system. True, many of the liberals in our movement are narrowly economistic and there are those Leftists who trail them and defer to them trying to build some sort of bullshit popular front. For these folks any talk about anti-imperialism is “alienating” and “ultraleft” and that needs to be challenged. For them the budget cuts fight is just “we want ours.” But there is also a growing tendency represented by Advance the Struggle, Democracy Insurgent, and many others who are fighting the budget cuts but not in such an economistic way. We are not trying to trail the liberals. We are also not simply fighting to demand some sort of privelge or entitlement. We recognize that the neoliberal economic attacks that the rulers are waging on workers and students target the most oppressed layers of society… not just the war but also the cuts are “a continuation of hundreds of years of white supremacist conquest.” That’s because we’re not just talking about college students from the suburbs, we’re talking about immigrant custodians who fled imperialist-sponsored genocide in East Africa, Central America, Southest Asia, etc, etc… who are now facing dangerous overwork, shortstaffing, and layoffs that could throw their families into poverty, their kids to the streets and the jaws of the prison industrial complex. Several of the workers we organize with in Democracy Insurgent were anti-colonial fighters before they migrated. We couldn’t keep this an economistic struggle over financial affairs even if we wanted to…. the racial contradictions are too obvious and too explosive to avoid.
    This gets at deeper methodological questions. Does imperialism provide economic privileges to working people in the US? Does it create a labor aristocracy, as Lenin argued? Or does it (also?) contribute to the superexploitation of layers of the working class here in the US as Rosa Luxemburg argued? Does the war machine benefit Americans or does it help the ruling class crack down and discipline people here? Are the budget cuts part of that disciplining? I tend to think that it is a mix of both… the imperialists historically have bought off layers of the working class, especially white skilled workers, while attacking and subordinating others. This is the classic pattern of divide and conquer which creates specific historical forms of white supremacy and patriarchy. It’s incredibly complex now, where the tiers aren’t just white vs. nonwhite, you also have Filipinos/as vs. East Africans, and Blacks vs. Latinos (my partner just started working as a Certified Nurse’s Assistant and her workplace is a microcosm of the Seattle class structure with white folks working in the offices, Filipinos/as in the Registered Nurses positions where they act like quasi-mangers over the East African CNAs).
    The cuts are applied selectively along these lines – they’re used to further entrench some of these hierarchies. In other cases, groups that used to have relatively privileges are being dispensed with and thrown into the lower layers of the class because the system is paying so much to maintain the wars and the empire that it can’t afford to co-opt them anymore. Revolutionaries should encourage these folks to fight against the system that creates these tiers in the first place rather than fighting to get back to their reatively less crappy situation. So when we say “fund our health care, not the war” we should do it in a way that gets at these specific and deeper political issues; we should not be simply fighting to maintain a historic aristocracy of labor through economistic demands. A demand like “books not bobms” on the surface could either be conservative or profoundly revolutionary depending on how it’s fleshed out through organizing, through blocking with and supporting the most dynamic layers as they move, and challenging folks when they need to be challenged.
    Ultimately, I think demands against the budget cuts can become transitional demands, not just an economistic “minimum program.” Vivid Visionary asks: “If we see the anti-war struggle in the US as primarily one where we should focus on budgetary and economic issues, doesn’t that come from the assumption that the ruling class can divert its resources from war and empire-building to serve our human needs?” As an anti-budget cuts activist I can say for sure that my comrades and I are most definitely NOT making that assumption. I don’t think that the system can actually do anything besides budget cuts right now unless if oppressed people bring it to its knees through mass strikes, uprisings, etc. The capitalist class has repeatedly faced the problem of falling profit rates and the only solution they seem to have for getting their profits back up is amping up exploitation to the point where the working class doesn’t even have the healthcare, education, and basic infastructure necessary to reproduce a new generation of workers.
    I understand Vivid’s fears…. movements that raise social democratic visions of “books not bombs” could contribute to some sort of imperialist warfare-welfare state, something like what the Democrats ran during World War II or the Cold War. Be demand books not bombs and they give us books AND bombs (but only the books they let us read). However, even that scenario seems unlikely – how would they finance it today with such a large deficit? The New Deal was based on mass assembly line production in large American based factories. Workers were given aid in reproducing their labor (public schools, health care, etc.) and in return were required to give up their attempts to control the production process and were forced to work harder and harder to increase the efficiency of those large factories. That whole arrangement is something which doesn’t exist anymore now that factories have been decentralized across the country and around the world. And the imperialist military machine, abroad and possibly (increasingly?) at home is used to keep these new production centers under control… they’ve resorted to neoliberal warfare and restructuring instead of the old New Deal “social contract”. My best guess at this point is that the system will keep looting from oppressed people from Detroit to Baghdad and this will only intensify as they enter into a new round of primitive accumulation – taking shit from us in order to pull together a down payment to invest in their next round of profit making.
    I think it is this perspective which we need to try to get out there in our anti-budget cuts and anti-war organizing. Rather than “connecting” the issues at the level of strategy or “line” we need to show how the cuts and the war are part of a deeper capitalist crisis. For an example of how we’ve tried to do this here in Seattle, check out this document “Don’t be Bamboozled by the Budget”, especially the intro and the last sections which deal with white supremacy, the imperialist wars, and the militarization of college campuses: http://nobudgetcutsuw.blogspot.com/2010/03/dont-be-bamboozled-by-budget_03.html. Note that this was not written by revolutionaries alone, it is a collaboration between revolutionaries and folks who have just recently become radicalized through their participation in the anti-budget cuts struggle and that affects the tone, sytle, content, etc. which are necessarily transitional and less technical than what I’ve been laying out here. This raises another whole set of crucial questions about what organizational forms are necessary to faciliate the development of new militants in the budget cuts movement which will have to wait for a later post. For a more theoretically rigorous and fleshed out version of the argument I’m making here, check out this talk on “War and the Economic Crisis” my comrades and I organized in the fall of ’08: http://blakorchid.blogspot.com/2008/11/war-and-economic-crisis.html.

  5. 1. Consciousness develops through activity more than it does through argument.

    2. The crimes of empire are and have always been the crimes of capital.

    3. Fighting against war spending in favor of people spending IS identifying our interests with those of other exploited people around the world.

    4. The hundreds of years of “white supremacist conquest” started out as the conquest of other white people. Just because certain intellectuals are not able to tap into the class antagonism that has persisted since that moment does not mean it is not there. This antagonism can also be anti-war, and a struggle along economic lines must lead to a radical anti-war position.

    5. We DO “want ours.” But what is ours is also everybody’s…

    6. Look again at the 60s legacy and how much the anti-imperialist position “radicalized” people. Support for the NLF = radical? Support for the Chinese “cultural revolution”? Black cultural nationalism or black capitalism? Look what reactionary regimes around the world have been able to do with this anti-imperialist ideology (because yeah, it has become one). The most radical currents of the 60s also had a firm footing in class struggle, whether at home or in the Third World or both.

  6. First off, I know I’m gonna come off as sectarian so my apologies in advance. And I participated in the events related below with my comrades in the Insane Dialectical Posse (IDP). I am also in near complete agreement with the points made by Katy and Gerrard above, who I presently organize and study with here in the Bay Area.

    For the series of demonstrations in the run-up to the latest Iraq War in fall of 2002/winter of 2003, IDP made a banner that said: “NO WAR BUT THE CLASS WAR!” We wrote it in English, Arabic, Chinese and Spanish. People speaking those languages came up and were very excited and some even helped carry the banner — in one of those passive “sheep-crawls” down Market St. in San Francisco.

    We also handed out several different anti-war fliers; before the war we slightly modified one entitled “Don’t talk about the danger of war unless you are prepared to speak about capitalism!” and handed out several thousand (it can be seen in its original, as written by the left communist group Internationalist Perspective : http://internationalist-perspective.org/IP/ip-texts/dont-talk.html ). Many protesters who weren’t very theoretical really liked and helped copy more and handed it out themselves. We got about a dozen positive comments to the flier by e-mail afterwards, which was very rare in my experience.

    As the war began, we also handed out around 5,000 of this flier, as well as wheatpasting hundreds around San Francisco and the East Bay:



    The millions that have marched against the Bush regime’s plans for a renewed war against Iraq have sent a message to the war planners: A message that can be ignored.

    Despite massive global demonstrations, the U.S. is moving ahead with this war. Our opposition must get past simply strolling up Market St. every third Sunday of the month, or we will remain a “focus group” in the minds of the war planners. We must do more than try to be heard in Washington.


    The Vietnam War became untenable as the movement opposed to it evolved from protest to resistance. Conscripts burned their draft cards and people took to the streets and shut down military induction centers. Insubordination among soldiers made the war unwageable on the ground in Vietnam. Officers faced as great a risk of being fragged by their own soldiers as dying in battle. Occupations, strikes, mutinies and riots made the war too volatile to continue. But it didn’t go far enough. The violence and coercion that maintain capitalist “order” was never directly confronted. Resistance was limited to stopping the war itself, never developing into a revolutionary struggle.
    The fight against the system takes many forms—we are engaged in it everyday as we struggle to survive as wage slaves. Even isolated working class activity can disrupt the capitalist war drive. Prior to the First Gulf War, in August 1990, 4000 maintenance workers on U.S. bases in Turkey went on strike for higher pay, hampering the war effort. Italians blockaded the Malpanese airport, near Milan, to try to prevent it from being used to refuel B-52s en route to bombing raids in Iraq. Disruption of the transportation of military supplies was used in France, the Netherlands and Germany—trains carrying troops were repeatedly sabotaged and derailed; military depots and barracks were blockaded to prevent mobilizations for the war.

    Last year, during the war on Afghanistan, 200 dock workers in Nagasaki, Japan refused to load military supplies onto naval vessels headed to assist the U.S.-led war, disrupting the entire Japanese state’s contribution to the war effort. On January 9, 2003, British train drivers refused to move a freight train carrying ammunition for the British forces being deployed in the Gulf.


    The form our revolt takes is determined by where the system’s war efforts are most vulnerable. Our power needs to rupture the social relations that bind us to a state of permanent war across the globe. Every aspect of the economy’s colonization of our daily life must be brought to a halt. The San Francisco Bay Area sits at a vital crossroads, in one of capitalism’s most advanced sites of production and distribution. This makes it a strategic target for rebellious activity. A one-day shutdown of the financial district is powerful, but it must ripple outward to include all of the working class. The ports are among the most crucial points where commerce could be totally paralyzed. The San Francisco General Strike of 1934 exemplified how the strike on the docks spread to the entire city. Ultimately the struggle must be international in scope to transcend capitalism



    In less than a month, Direct Action to Stop the War who’d emulated the “Seattle-model” from the 1999 WTO protests and organized 20,000 into the streets of San Francisco when the war started on March 20, 2003, called for another demo on April 7 at the Port of Oakland. It would take up too much to give a thorough account, but that’s the demo where the Oakland pigs came out shooting — literally — and without the slightest provocation fired wooden and rubber bullets and used their “BUMP” (for “Basic Use of Motorcycle Push”) tactic where they rode their Harley-Davidson motorcycles into the crowd. The brutality showed that we chose a target that could effectively cause damage to our enemy, although we didn’t have the forces nor the working class solidarity from workers there, to truly shut it down (a successful model would be the way the short-haul truck drivers, the troqueros, were able to shut down, by a factor of 90%, the Los Angeles/Long Beach port complex, the busiest cargo port in the western hemisphere, on May Day 2006). But the tactical decision to attempt it at the port was brilliant and confirmed what we advocated for on our flier. Here, Katy is completely dead-on correct because we need more tactical insight like that in choosing targets, but have to realistically assess what we’re capable of given our numbers. The Olympia protests against the Stryker Brigade had the same quality of being the correct target at right time.

    We also researched the history of anti-war movements and made a critical examination of the various of responses to war, from internationalist responses (e.g. The Zimmerwald Conference in 1915), to the pacifism of Conscientious Objectors in World War II, and G.I. self-organized resistance in Vietnam (as seen in the documentary film “Sir! No Sir!”).

    Our favorite account was working class anti-war agitation before and during World War I, especially the writings of Mary Marcy, collected in the book “You Have No Country!: Workers’ Struggle Against the War” (which is still available in an edition republished by Charles Kerr in 1984). Our favorite passage was again by Mary Marcy, who said: “The profit system is the cause of all wars today.” She went on to write (in 1915): “Every intelligent working man and woman is opposed to all capitalist wars…We object to having one worker sacrificed to the interests of the capitalist class…We are opposed to ALL armies and ALL navies because they have always been, and always will be, the weapons of the ruling class to keep us in wage slavery.” She wrote that in the journal she edited, called the “Internationalist Socialist Review,” which was nonsectarian and published all the influential revolutionaries of the day: Debs, Louis Fraina, John Reed, “Big Bill” Haywood, Vincent St. John, Joe Hill, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, James P. Cannon, and introduced to U.S. readers to Guy Aldred, James Connoly, Alexdrandra Kollontai, Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg and the outstanding Dutch/German council communists like Anton Pannekoek, Herman Gorter and S. J. Rutgers. The latter are the “ultra-left” that we all should be learning from. I’m not a Trotskyist, so I find the use of that term imprecise and derogatory. It would be much better to clarify or define the terms used to describe groups, rather than using epitaphs like that (same with “social democrat,” which to my understanding of history means descendants of 2nd International reformists, denoting counter-revolutionaries).

    Our group learned these histories and used them to contrast and make critiques of the strenths and limitations of more recent activist (DASW’s organizing on March 20, 2003 and endless ANSWER marches/rallies) and working class focused responses to the war (i.e. the demo at the Port of Oakland on April 7, 2003, as well as the 100-person strong picket line organized by the Oakland Education Association at the Port again on May 19, 2007 that successfully was honored by 2 shifts of longshore workers and that prevented 3 ships from being unloaded for a day). Our analysis is based on the understanding that opposition to the wars of the U.S. must include a critique of the purpose of these acts of imperialism (seeing the needs of U.S. monetary, military and political hegemony and refuting the shallower “War for Oil” pseudo-analysis). By learning from these experiences – and a critical appraisal of them – we can begin to go beyond their limitations and make our anti-war actions truly anti-capitalist and internationalist.

    I must add quickly that the fixation — or obsession — with the “Left” being in support of Obama simply doesn’t apply in the radical circles we’ve been part of in the Bay Area. I’m sure in some places you get MoveOn.org types and class collaborationist union bureaucrats who are merely the left wing of the Democratic Party, but in our efforts we steer clear of them. Code Pink is strong here, but if you stay well enough away from the TV cameras you won’t have to deal with them. I know the San Francisco Labor Council is like a fund-raising apparatus for the Democrats and is allied with war-monger Nancy Pelosi ( see this hilarious account of their defense of her pro-war position in “CounterPunch”: http://www.counterpunch.org/cockburn09042009.html ) and are strong supporters of local left-wing neoliberal mayor Gavin Newsom.

    And our formulation “from protest to resistance to class war” was based on trying to transcend the limitations of the anti-war protests of the 1960s. Most militants active then say that one of the movement high points was Stop the Draft Week in Oakland in October 1967. In that series of protests, people did civil disobedience at the downtown Army Induction Center at the beginning of the week, to no avail. They tried militant street blockade, again to no avail. They regrouped, rethought their tactics and organized another attempt to use street fighting to shut it down — and succeeded, in the last action at the end of the week, in defeating the cops and completely controlling the streets of downtown Oakland for most of the day. A great series of interviews and news footage about that battle are in the film “Berkeley in the Sixties,” as well as a written account in Michael Ferber and Staughton Lynd’s book “The Resistance.”

    That high point in 1967, where nearly 5,000 protesters fought for control of the streets of Oakland with nearly the same number of cops, was conceptualized as going “beyond” protest by escalating tactics into acts of resistance. But they too reached their limitations. Shutting down the streets for a day is fine, but it could never sustain itself any further. Like in the period of opposition to World War I, we saw that opposing war is only possible by opposing capitalism. And that war simply can’t be stopped short of throwing movement of value and the operation of capitalist accumulation into crisis. So like the example of longshore workers in 1919 at the ports of Seattle and San Francisco who refused to load ships with armaments and supplies destined for the attacks on the Soviet Union, we see the need for internationalist anti-war actions to be conceived in class terms, hence the call for class war.

    Which brings up Lenin’s ideas of bribing workers in his thoroughly erroneous ideology of the “aristocracy of labor.” I won’t bring up Lenin’s equally erroneous — and opportunistically inconsistent — theories of imperialism, but that’s the other side of the same coin. But I will suggest anyone who’s interested in seeing Lenin’s so-called anti-war positions ripped to shreds to read Hal Draper’s (a Trot himself) “War and Revolution: Lenin and the Myth of Revolutionary Defeatism.” The conclusion reached in that book: Lenin’s inconsistent position was “deleterious”; the positions of Trotsky were more “defensible,” yet still flawed; Rosa Luxemburg’s principled anti-war internationalist position was the only consistent one. Anyone reading her brilliant anti-war “Junius Pamphlet” can confirm this.

    I’m cribbing from a comrade (who also happens to be a Trot) about Lenin’s grand error, so here’s what he says about the aristocracy of labor:

    “1) Lenin’s empirical analysis (in “Imperialism: The Hightest Stage of Capitalism”) is wrong on almost all counts

    2) the basis for such an aristocracy — so called “superprofits” — simply does not correlate with the actual profits, and investments made in less developed countries

    The actual source of the higher wages afforded the workers in the advanced countries — 1) the higher costs of subsistence 2) more than just the costs of subsistence, the costs of reproduction of a working class capable of functioning in an advanced country — where partial subsistence was not provided by owning plots of land 3) the shrinking portion of wages, no matter how high, in the exchange with capital — in relation to the constant capital — machinery, raw materials, so that wages even 10x those of wage-laborers in less-developed countries are still a smaller portion of the “total input” into capital. There is a book, written by in 1889 by a Harvard economist, D.A. Wells, “Recent Economic Changes” which examines in detail the tremendous increases in output after the US Civil War, and the fact that wages become so inconsequential to the cost of production — and what does this really mean? That the price of production actually trends down to the cost of production — where the surplus value, which was “free” to the capitalist, the rate of relative surplus value is so great while the relative value of wage-labor to the capital employed in production is so small that the rate of return on capitalist production trends lower.”

    Here’s from Wells’ book itself:

    “On the great wheat fields of the state of Dakota, where machinery is applied to agriculture to such an extent that the requirement for manual labor has been reduced to a minimum, the annual product of one man’s labor…is understood to be now equivalent to the production of 5500 bushels of wheat. In the great mills of Minnesota, the labor of another one man for a year, under similar conditions as regards machinery, is in like manner equivalent to the conversion of this unit of 5500 bushels into a thousand barrels of flour, leaving 500 bushels for seed purposes; and, although conditions for analysis of the next step in the way of results are more difficult, it is reasonably certain that the year’s labor of one and a half men more — or at the most two men — employed in railroad transportation is equivalent to putting this thousand barrels of flour on the dock in New York ready for exportation, where the addition of a fraction of a cent a pound to the price will…deliver it…to any port in Europe.

    …Before such a result the question of the wages paid in the different branches of flour production and transportation becomes an insignificant factor in determining the market.”

    So to summarize: this process, mechanization, works both to reduce the costs of subsistence and drive down the cost of wages and coincidentally allows wages to rise above “absolute subsistence” to the required level of social subsistence. I’ve read through parts of the Well’s book and all this empirical proof has me convinced.

    For Anti-War Internationalism,


    PS I don’t claim to know much about the history of Vietnam and it’s colonial experience, but I do know that Ho Chi Minh was a Stalinist who was responsible for the massacre of thousands of his political enemies, including Trotskyists and other leftists, with authorization given directly by Stalin after the Yalta Conference in 1945. Fortunately, Ken Knabb just finished a translation of the autobiography of Ngô Văn that will be published as a book by AK Press this spring. His life history will help dispel some of the anti-imperialist myths of Vietnam and show the barbarity of a Stalinist state; he wrote:

    “The so-called ‘workers’ parties’ (Leninist parties especially) are embryonic state regimes. Once in power, these parties form the nucleus of a new ruling class, and can only give rise to a new system of exploitation of man by man” (from this brief bio: http://libcom.org/history/articles/1913-2005-ngo-van )

  7. Just a quick appendix to the previous post. There have been many different forms of opposing war that tap into people’s imagination, militancy and innate sense of acting against the horrors of mass slaughter.

    Anti-war feminists have alluded to Aristophanes comedic play “Lysistrata” (first performed 411 BCE) where women, in order to stop the bloodshed of the Peloponnesian War, urged Greek women to go on “sex strike” until the men negotiated a peaceful settlement to the war.

    Henry David Thoreau innovated the tactic of civil disobedience in refusing to pay taxes, based on his opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery, by going to jail to maintain his principles. These ideas were used again by Martin Luther King is his fight against the racists laws of Jim Crow. And King was assassinated just as he was becoming an outspoken opponent of the war in Vietnam, as well as days after he called for a general strike of all workers in Memphis to support a garbage workers’ strike there.

    German General von Clausewitz, influenced by Hegelian dialectics in his book “On War,” was able to lucidly say this, in defining war:

    “instead of comparing it with any art, to liken it to trade, which is also a conflict of human interests and activities; and it is much more like politics, which in turn may be looked upon as a kind of trade on a great scale. Besides, politics is the womb in which war is developed, in which its outlines lie hidden in a rudimentary state, like the qualities of living creatures in their germs.”

    The Conscientious Objectors to World War II included Lew Hill, who went on to found KPFA in Berkelely in 1949 as the first public radio station in the U.S. So anti-war sentiments have a long history here in the Bay Area.

    Another inspirational part of the anti-war movement was the Chicano Moratorium, began in 1969 as an act of not only opposing the war in Vietnam, but as a means to fight against oppression at home. During the August 29, 1970 national day of action, 4 protesters were killed as cops attacked the demo in East Los Angeles (here’s a fascinating account, attributed to Herbert Marcuse, but actually a prank that put him in a tizzy of denouncing the text: http://www.bopsecrets.org/PH/riot.htm ).

    And lastly, plowshare actions and other creative acts of civil disobedience must be seen as righteous in themselves and the conscience of anti-war activism. While these aren’t my thing, I do deeply respect activists who break into ballistic missile silos and use sledgehammers to destroy the computer guidance systems. I also respect veterans against war and their militant acts of civil disobedience, like Brian Willson who lost both legs on the railroad tracks at the Concord Naval Weapons Station in 1987, attempting with other veterans to blockade a train carrying munitions (the destination, I believe, was a ship to be loaded with the arms bound for Central America). Rather than stopping, the train sped up.

    I find these acts heroic, so rather than being so goddamn cynical and pessimistic and blaming the lack of an anti-war movement on supporters of Obama, why don’t we all find inspiration in them and start building a movement opposed to war anew. We should do what Joe Hill advised: “Don’t mourn, organize!”


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