International Committee of the Fourth International
Fourth International 1991: Oppose imperialist war and colonialism!

Demand a Referendum on Gulf War!

This statement called for the working class to take the life-and-death issue of war out of the hands of Bush and Congress, the political representatives of the capitalists in whose interests the war was launched.

The Workers League calls on workers and youth to go into action now to stop the Bush administration’s bloody war against the people of Iraq. This war has been launched as the culmination of nearly two decades of preparation by successive US administrations for the military seizure of the Persian Gulf oil fields. For all the chauvinist hysteria in the press and the cynical lies of the American government, this is an imperialist war to conquer and plunder the oil resources of the Persian Gulf, in which American workers and youth are being called on to give their lives and sacrifice their living standards to defend the profit interests of big business.

Tens of millions of workers, youth, students, housewives and middle class people are opposed to the monstrous slaughter initiated by the White House and Pentagon, with the full support of Congress. As Carmen Cotto, the mother of one of the first marines to die in the gulf war, declared, “Children shouldn’t be sacrificed in a place like the gulf, for a war that is for money, for oil.” But their voices are being ignored, while the capitalist media monopolies pour out a flood of war propaganda aimed at intimidating and silencing all opposition to the war in the Persian Gulf. Without any genuine democratic discussion, the United States has been plunged into war by a handful of White House and Pentagon conspirators. The decision in Congress to authorize military action does not represent the will of the people, but the will of the millionaires who control both big business parties, Democratic and Republican.

No one has consulted the working people, whose sons and daughters, brothers and sisters are now being sent into combat. The rigged polls showing overwhelming support for the war prove nothing but the shamelessness with which public opinion is manipulated and distorted by the capitalist media. The same polls showed massive opposition to the launching of war in the Persian Gulf only days before the bombs began to fall. The working people must demand the right to decide this most vital of issues, the life-and-death question of war. Let the people vote on war! Take the decision out of the hands of Bush and Congress, the political representatives of the oil monopolies and military contractors in whose interests this war has been launched! Demand a nationwide referendum on the gulf war!

The aerial bombardment of Iraq by US warplanes, cruise missiles and other high-tech weapons of mass destruction is one of the great crimes of the twentieth century. While the US government and the American media are silent on the question of Iraqi casualties, tens of thousands of men, women and children have already been killed and maimed by the unceasing rain of bombs. In the first three weeks of the war, more bomb tonnage was dropped on Iraq than in all of World War II. The working class suburbs of Baghdad have been leveled. The bombing of Basra, Iraq’s second largest city, is so intense that it has shaken buildings across the border in Iran, more than 25 miles away. Hospitals, schools, post offices, bus stations, mosques, homes in working class neighborhoods, even a factory making powdered milk for infant formula have been hit by US bombers.

Frightened refugees who have reached Iran and Jordan brought news of the incineration of large sections of Baghdad and other Iraqi cities, with more than 100,000 casualties, including 30,000 civilians, in the first four days of war. “Children were crushed, adults were maimed and everyone was paralyzed with fear,” according to one account. “This is not a war. This is the annihilation of a Moslem people,” said an Egyptian worker. “I took some wounded and dead people to Falujah General Hospital. There were many children—some five and six years old. The claim that they are not hitting civilian targets is propaganda. It is wrong. The skies are red above us.” The response of the US military command was to repeat the cynical denials that civilian targets were being hit and to step up bombing and strafing of the Baghdad-Amman highway, to kill refugees before they could reach the outside world with their reports of the genocide being carried out against the Iraqi people.

Since the onset of the war, the ruling class has combined its aerial blitz against Iraq with a propaganda blitz against the American people. The news media trumpets Pentagon claims of “surgical” air strikes and “pinpoint bombing,” presenting American imperialism as invincible. Every act of Iraqi military resistance is depicted as “terrorism,” while the mass terror of the bombing raids, aimed at destroying a country of 18 million people, is covered up. Fraudulent and biased opinion polls are published, and reports on antiwar demonstrations suppressed, in order to convince millions that their opposition to the gulf war is isolated and futile. Public opinion is manipulated in preparation for even bloodier actions against the Iraqi people, with open discussion in the media of crimes ranging from the assassination of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to the use of nuclear weapons.

But despite the unprecedented mobilization of the resources of the mass media, including total military censorship of all reports from the Middle East, the reality is filtering through. The Bush administration and the Pentagon have been compelled to drop the pretense of speedy victory in a weekend war. The first ground combat at Khafji took more American lives than the previous two weeks of one-sided aerial bombardment, and the US media shifted its tone, seeking to condition the American people to what one expert called “the astonishing scale of death they’re going to see....” What lies ahead is a bloody conflagration in which tens of thousands of American and Iraqi youth will die. One study predicted 30,000 American dead in the first 20 days of ground combat.

For all their patriotic speeches and appeals for prayers for the troops, the ruling class regards the working class youth in uniform as nothing more than cannon fodder to be expended like the machines, bombs and missiles the Pentagon has assembled in the Saudi desert. The callousness of the Pentagon has been amply displayed in the military buildup, when the top brass rejected humanitarian requests not to mobilize both parents of young children or groups of as many as five brothers for the gulf war. The stage has been set for wiping out entire families at one stroke. Army medics have reportedly begun digging mass graves in anticipation of casualties so heavy and so gruesome that individual identification and shipment back to the United States in bodybags will be impossible. Rank-and-file soldiers have been denied any democratic rights, forbidden to give interviews to the media on their feelings about the war, except under officers’ supervision.

Nothing is more dangerous than the pessimistic and fatalistic conclusion that nothing can be done to stop the Persian Gulf war. We say to all workers and young people, to all those who oppose this war, now is the time to intervene, to save the lives of your sons, daughters, husbands and fathers, before the Pentagon madmen can toss them into the flames. Reject the demand, now made openly by the Bush administration, that with the launching of war, all domestic opposition should cease. Reject the incessant media propaganda that portrays those who advocate sending American troops to their deaths by the thousands as “supporting” the rank-and-file US soldiers, while those who oppose the gulf war and seek the withdrawal of the troops are slandered as “against” the soldiers. Mobilize the working class now, to prevent the Bush administration from sacrificing a generation of young people to defend the profit interests of the ruling class!

This war can and must be stopped. To do so, the movement against the gulf war must be equipped with a political strategy that is based on a scientific analysis of how this war was prepared and organized, who is responsible for it, and in whose interests the war is being fought. Ask yourself, how is it possible, less than 20 years after the withdrawal of the last American troops from Vietnam, that the United States has once again plunged into a massive war against a poor and underdeveloped country? To fight against this war, you must consciously reject the myths and lies spread by the capitalist media and consider soberly, and from the standpoint of its historical background and economic basis, the development of the gulf crisis.

The US war against Iraq is an imperialist war of conquest and plunder. Its aim is the military occupation of the Persian Gulf, giving US imperialism both control of the bulk of world oil reserves and a strategic position dominating the entire Middle East. It is a war to restore to his throne the emir of Kuwait, whose living expenses run between $1 million and $2 million a day. It is a war to defend the profits of the oil monopolies, the arms manufacturers, the giant banks and corporations who control all the political levers in Washington. It is a war in which the Pentagon seeks to wreak destruction on the people of a less developed country, to avenge the shattering defeat which US imperialism suffered in Vietnam. It is a war to reassert by military force the dominant world position which Wall Street no longer enjoys economically, because of the protracted historical decay of American capitalism and the loss of its position in the world market.

The White House and State Department have provided a series of pretexts for war, none of which stand up to objective scrutiny. They have claimed that the war is to defend freedom, although Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are both ruled by semi-feudal monarchs who suppress all democratic rights, employ the most barbaric forms of political repression and even practice chattel slavery. They have claimed that the war is necessary to defend jobs, although war in the Persian Gulf is being accompanied by a frontal assault on the jobs and living standards of American workers. Only once, in the early hours of the crisis, did the Bush administration admit the economic stakes, when a high official told the New York Times on August 4, “We are talking about oil. Got it? Oil, vital American interests.”

Most cynical of all is the claim that the war has been launched to safeguard the universal principle that small states should be secure against “naked aggression.” These pious statements about “tiny Kuwait” are issued by an administration which organized the invasion of Panama one year ago. No ruling class has so shameless a record of trampling on the democratic rights of small nations as the American bourgeoisie. In the 18 years since it was driven out of Vietnam, the US ruling class has sent troops into Grenada and Lebanon, bombed Libya, waged covert war against Nicaragua and financed death squads in El Salvador, Guatemala, the Philippines and other countries, while maintaining colonial domination of Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal Zone.

The utter hypocrisy of the tears over Kuwait is further demonstrated in the agreement between the Bush administration and the Soviet Stalinist regime of Mikhail Gorbachev, Bush’s principal ally in the gulf crisis. In return for Soviet support for the US military onslaught against Iraq, including full briefings to the Pentagon and CIA on Iraqi weaponry, communications and defense tactics, the Bush administration has backed Gorbachev’s brutal repression against the small Baltic nations of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. This quid pro quo was spelled out in talks between Baker and Soviet Foreign Minister Bessmertnykh. A top US official told the Associated Press, “We made a rough deal. We agree to back off on the Baltics, and they maintain support for us on the gulf.”

In the wake of the first reports of military success, the capitalist press has begun open discussion about the real objectives of the Bush administration’s policy in the gulf crisis. The January 20 New York Times devoted a full page to the subject, proclaiming the long-term US goal in the war to be the establishment of a “Pax Americana” in the Middle East. A second article in the same newspaper January 21 further detailed US war aims, pointing out that from the start, the Bush administration was out to destroy Iraq as a military power, and fearful that a political settlement of the gulf crisis would deprive it of the opportunity to use force. “All along we worried about the implications of a diplomatic success,” a top official told the Times.

A commentary January 23 in the Washington Post stated openly the economic interests involved in the war, under the headline, “Oil Remains the Driving Force of the Persian Gulf War.” The column noted that behind all the rhetorical claims that the gulf war is aimed at fighting aggression, “its purpose is to take away the ‘oil weapon’ from the nations that have exercised it since 1971. Though not officially stated in such terms, the idea involves eliminating the government that has reached for the weapon most recently and intimidating the others.” The Post writer noted that the origins of the gulf war lay not in the events of August 2, 1990, but in the crisis of world capitalism that exploded in the early 1970s: “when the history books are written, the period of instability that began with the ‘oil embargo’ of 1973 is likely to form the core of the story of the gulf war.” The column concluded by hinting at the spoils to be gained from the seizure of the oil fields: “Not since the end of World War II has there been so much to gain from a possible victory.”

A report published in the Toronto Globe & Mail gives a glimpse of the megalomaniac hopes for world domination which underlie the military intervention by the American ruling class. The report cited the views of one analyst, Tracy Herrick of the huge Wall Street firm Jefferies & Co., that the gulf war meant “the dawn of the American empire.” By this account, “the United States is responding militarily to the economic challenge it ignored for the past several decades,” especially from Japan and Germany, “through overwhelming military force.” In a written report prepared before the outbreak of the war, Herrick said that “the US empire, spanning Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, selected islands in the Caribbean, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, would control half the world’s oil output.” US military forces would protect the oil-rich states and keep their resources under the control of US companies. “This is the way an empire has worked whenever it has been established,” the analyst concluded. “Client countries are protected and a core country is enriched.”

A US victory over Iraq would open the way to a whole series of wars of conquest. No longer fearing the intervention of the Soviet Union, US imperialism would transform the Persian Gulf region into a base for future military strikes into Asia, Africa and Europe, aiming to reverse the whole course of the twentieth century. US imperialism has never reconciled itself to the defeats which world capitalism has suffered since the Russian Revolution of 1917. Wall Street has long resented the fact that its victory in World War II was limited by the military power of the Soviet Union, the Chinese Revolution and the forced dismantling of the colonial empires of Britain, France and other European powers. The real content of Bush’s call for a “new world order” is that American imperialism is dissatisfied with the present division of the world and is turning to a policy of military force to restore the system of colonialism, this time under the hegemony of the United States. Large portions of Asia, Africa and Latin America are to be reduced to colonial status, and the other imperialist powers are joining in the assault on Iraq in order to share the spoils.

This sets the stage for ferocious battles between the major capitalist powers, as each imperialist ruling class fights to seize control of markets, sources of raw material and cheap labor and strategic military positions. The fundamental contradiction of world capitalism—the conflict between the world economy and the system of rival capitalist nation-states—is exploding with enormous force. World capitalism is breaking up into giant trading blocs, a US-dominated western hemisphere, a German-dominated Europe and a Japanese-dominated Asian-Pacific region, which retrace the battle lines of World War II. Behind the surface unity against Iraq, the same inter-imperialist tensions which produced two world wars in the twentieth century can already be seen, in the US criticism of Germany and Japan for insufficient contributions, both financial and military, to the US-led “coalition.” In the war against Iraq are the seeds of a third world war. The same high-tech weapons whose success is now being celebrated in one-sided warfare against Iraq will ultimately be employed against the major rivals of Wall Street, who will have equally devastating weapons of their own to target American cities, factories and homes.

The Bush administration has threatened Saddam Hussein with a war crimes trial over the alleged mistreatment of captured US bomber pilots. The real war criminals are George Bush, Richard Cheney, James Baker and General Colin Powell! These are the men who deliberately plotted and orchestrated the brutal imperialist onslaught against the Iraqi people. Not since the Japanese seizure of Manchuria and Mussolini’s invasion of Ethiopia has there been such a brazen example of an advanced imperialist nation mobilizing all its military firepower against an underdeveloped country.

The war in the Persian Gulf has been organized as a conspiracy by a tiny group of representatives of the ruling class, behind the backs of the American people. The working class has had no say in the decision to launch the biggest US military intervention since the Vietnam War. The dispatch of the first 200,000 US troops to the Middle East was decided on by a White House cabal consisting of a handful of Bush administration and Pentagon officials. There is irrefutable evidence that these officials deliberately provoked and encouraged the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, to provide a pretext for long-prepared plans for US occupation of the Persian Gulf oil fields.

The United States has been preparing for military intervention in the Persian Gulf since the quadrupling of oil prices in 1973, which led to the establishment of the Rapid Deployment Force, the US support to Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war, the military escort of tankers in 1987, and now the launching of the biggest imperialist military action since World War II. General Norman Schwarzkopf, now the supreme commander of US military forces in the Middle East, has been in charge of plans for a US invasion of the gulf since 1983, after he served as deputy commander in the invasion of Grenada. According to admiring profiles published in the media after the war began, Schwarzkopf has long been convinced that the United States would fight a major war in the Middle East. He conducted a dress rehearsal of Operation Desert Shield in July, before the Iraq-Kuwait crisis erupted.

Operation Desert Shield was launched under conditions of deepening economic slump, an enormous political scandal over the plundering of the savings and loan institutions which touched the president’s own family, and a mounting crisis over the huge and growing federal budget deficit. There is no question that the decision to send masses of troops to the Persian Gulf was in no small measure prompted by the desire of the Bush administration to escape its insoluble domestic problems through a desperate military adventure. At the same time, the huge cost of the operation has intensified the economic crisis, staggered the banking system, and forced US officials to tour the world demanding financial subsidies for the war effort from its imperialist rivals, especially Germany and Japan.

The politicians of both capitalist parties, Democratic and Republican, conspired to keep the issue of the gulf out of the 1990 elections, in order to prevent the slightest show of opposition to the US military buildup. Democratic and Republican candidates either made no mention of the war preparations or campaigned as all-out supporters of Bush administration policy. Two days after the election, the Bush administration announced that it was doubling the number of US troops in Saudi Arabia and preparing to take the offensive against Iraq. White House officials cynically admitted that the decision for war was made in October, before the elections, and deliberately withheld in order to keep voters in the dark.

When it became clear that there was massive opposition to a Persian Gulf war, the ruling class politicians organized a phony “debate” in Congress to confuse and divert public opinion. They sought to frame the issue as one of sanctions versus military action, and of the power of the president as commander-in-chief versus the authority of Congress to declare war. None of the representatives of big business, Democrat or Republican, challenged the basic premises of the US intervention into the Persian Gulf. All agreed that US imperialism has the unquestioned right to invade the Middle East, seize control of the oil fields and impose its will on the Arab population. In the end, for all the posturing by Democratic congressmen, the House and Senate voted authorization for military action against Iraq. Bush launched his genocidal bombing raids four days later.

Once the initial impact of the air war was announced, the congressional hyenas rushed through resolutions applauding Operation Desert Storm by near-unanimous margins. Supposedly “antiwar” Democratic politicians from Sam Nunn to Edward Kennedy joined in saluting the barbaric military onslaught on the Iraqi people. Bill Alexander (D-Ark), a House deputy whip, suggested the US forces “continue target practice for a year or so.” Nunn said the Iraqis “are being pounded very heavily and I think we ought to keep that pounding up and hope that we can prevail in the shortest time possible.” House Speaker Thomas Foley declared that the beginning of military action meant the end of all political debate, in favor of national unity behind the White House and the Pentagon. He rejected suggestions of a bombing pause, saying, “Saddam Hussein can request an opportunity to remove his troops if he wishes to. But I think a pause would merely give him an opportunity to resupply the ground forces.”

Perhaps the most cynical of all the capitalist politicians is the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who hailed Operation Desert Shield but now claims to lead the opposition to the gulf war. In an interview with the Washington Post just after Bush began sending US troops to Saudi Arabia, Jackson denounced Saddam Hussein and said, “He must be driven back to the borders.” The United States, he said, must be prepared to “use military force, multilaterally or unilaterally.” Jackson joined in the bipartisan cover-up of the war drive in the November elections, where he won a position as the “shadow” senator from Washington, DC, running on the Democratic ticket. In the congressional “debate” which followed, Jackson supported the maintenance of the economic blockade on Iraq. Now, conscious of the mass opposition to the war and dangers which war brings to the ruling class, Jackson has placed himself on the platform at antiwar rallies in order to head off any revolutionary, working class opposition to the imperialist war.

The working class is the only social force which has the power to take the lead of the massive opposition to the gulf war and defeat the war policies of US imperialism. Despite the rigged public opinion polls, masses of workers oppose this war and hate the Bush administration. As the press and Pentagon claims of “surgical strikes” and bombing raids restricted to “military targets” are exposed as lies, the American people will react with horror and revulsion at what is being done in their name. American workers have nothing in common with the technicians of mass murder in the Pentagon. They have no wish to join with Bush and his war-crazed generals in carrying out crimes unprecedented since the barbarities of Nazism. They have no reason to rejoice over the slaughter of Iraqi workers and peasants. However different their culture and history, they share the same class interests and needs as their Iraqi brothers.

Workers must recognize that this is not our war! This is a war to defend the class interests of the corporate bosses and bankers, while sacrificing the lives of working class youth and destroying the living standards of the working people to pay for the frenzied growth of American militarism. Bush’s “new world order,” based on violence, terror and brutal military force against the foreign opponents of US imperialism, has its domestic implications as well. The same methods will be employed to defend the interests of the capitalist ruling class against the working class at home. Against the false slogan of “national unity” behind the oil bosses and the Pentagon, American workers must counterpose their own political program, based on the international unity of the workers of all countries, to defend their independent class interests in a common struggle against capitalism and imperialism.

In raising the demand for a national referendum on the gulf war, workers must reject the claim that only big business and its political stooges in the White House and Congress have the right to decide on war. This decision must be taken out of the hands of the capitalist class and placed in the hands of the working people. The demand for a referendum is not an appeal to Congress or the White House to make American capitalism more democratic or to “legitimize” imperialist war through a popular vote. Rather, the Workers League’s campaign for a referendum, by putting forward a democratic demand directed against the warmongers, aims to mobilize the working class in struggle against the capitalist state, the two capitalist parties, and their agents inside the labor movement.

The fight for a referendum on the gulf war provides a focus for the struggle to mobilize the working class, galvanize the popular opposition to the Bush administration’s policies and stop the imperialist war against the Iraqi people. Workers must take the leadership of the massive opposition which already exists to the launching of an imperialist war. Resolutions should be introduced in every union local, in central labor councils and other trade union bodies and in high school and college classes and assemblies, demanding such a referendum. The labor movement must launch an aggressive political campaign to force the holding of a nationwide vote on the gulf war, involving circulation of petitions, mass demonstrations and the preparation of strike action on a local, regional and national scale. Especially decisive is the mobilization of young people, who have been the first to serve as cannon fodder in the Middle East. In the event that the war in the gulf proves protracted, US imperialism will be forced to reinstitute the draft, in order to provide tens of thousands of new victims for the Pentagon war machine.

In raising the demand for a referendum on the gulf war, the Workers League is initiating a political struggle of the working class against the bourgeoisie. The mass opposition which already exists to the gulf war, and which will expand and deepen as the bloody slaughter unfolds, must assume the form of a mass political movement of the working class against the two existing capitalist parties, and for the building of a Labor Party. The congressional votes hailing the gulf war, by 98-0 in the Senate and 399-6 in the House of Representatives, have enormous historical significance. There can be no pretense, as there was during the Vietnam War, that war has been launched behind the back of Congress. The gulf war has obliterated any distinction between the Democratic and Republican parties. The politicians of the Democratic Party are the full partners of the Bush administration in the imperialist war in the Persian Gulf The blood is on their hands too. The working class can only conduct a struggle against the gulf war by breaking with the Democratic Party and mobilizing its strength independently of Congress and all the institutions of the capitalist state.

The struggle against the gulf war must be carried out on a class basis, linking the question of war to all the attacks made by the capitalist system on the working class. American capitalism is bankrupt, facing massive trade and budget deficits. The ruling class cannot attempt the policies of “guns and butter” carried out during the Vietnam War. It is carrying out a war on two fronts. The huge cost of imperialist war in the Middle East is being extracted from the living standards and social conditions of the working class at home. Both the Bush administration and the Democratic leadership in Congress have declared that spending on the war precludes any measures to deal with the mounting social crisis at home. “We ought to see where the war takes us before deciding whether to focus any attention on domestic priorities,” said Rep. Leon Panetta, D-Calif., chairman of the House Budget Committee. At the state level, drastic cuts in social spending have been decreed from California to New York. In Michigan, the new state budget calls for the elimination of General Assistance and huge cuts in other welfare programs to cover a deficit of $1.3 billion, about 30 hours spending in the gulf war. American workers must refuse to pay for the cost of the war through rising inflation, worsening slump, the cutback of all needed social programs, deepening social misery and higher taxes. No sacrifices for the war machine! Defend jobs, wages and benefits! Oppose no-strike clauses and all other forms of class truce in time of war!

The naked economic interests at stake in the gulf war were demonstrated in the euphoric response on Wall Street to the first reports of US military successes. The stock market soared 114 points. The stock of military contractors like Raytheon, General Dynamics, McDonnell Douglas and Lockheed leaped, with many reporting record profits and huge orders for their output of weaponry, not only from the Pentagon, but from capitalist governments around the world. For the merchants of death, the gulf war is a gigantic opportunity to display the “competitiveness” of American arms exports. At the same time, the oil companies have reported vast profits from the fourth quarter of 1990, the first full quarter of price-gouging from the gulf crisis. Mobil’s profits were up 46 percent; Amoco’s, up 69 percent. The major oil companies averaged a 70 percent profit boost, and the seven largest, a 145 percent profit boost, to an estimated $5.8 billion collectively. Working class youth are being sent to die for the profits of the oil bosses and military contractors! The working class must raise the demand: no blood for private profit! Nationalize the oil monopolies! Nationalize the war industries and convert them to useful production! Abolish the stock exchange and all other forms of speculation.

The campaign for a referendum on the gulf war is crucial, but it is only the first step. The cause of war is the capitalist system, which must be abolished. The demand for a referendum opens up a new road for the working class: the independent mobilization of the enormous power of the working class in a political struggle against the capitalist government. To carry forward this struggle, the working class must establish its own political party, a mass Labor Party, and fight to establish a new government, a workers government based on elected workers councils, and committed to a socialist program. This workers government, established through such a mass upsurge of the working class, would strike directly at the corporate warmongers, nationalizing the banks and all basic industry under workers control and without payment to the bosses. It would dismantle the Pentagon war machine and replace the capitalist “volunteer army” with a workers militia, organized and controlled by the working class itself.

The Workers League’s opposition to imperialist war is not based on pacifism. The working class, the greatest social force in the United States and internationally, cannot allow itself to be subordinated to middle class protest organizations, pacifist preachers, or bourgeois demagogues like Jesse Jackson. Such elements will jump on the bandwagon of opposition to the gulf war, especially if the US military position becomes difficult, and seek to divert the mass movement in the direction of pressuring Congress and the Democratic Party politicians. War cannot be stopped by protest, but only by revolutionary means. The working class must intervene independently into the political life of the United States, putting forward its own political agenda against that of the warmongers in Washington, and rallying behind itself the masses of exploited middle class people—professionals, farmers, small businessmen—who are also horrified by the massive bloodbath in the Persian Gulf.

In calling for a referendum on the gulf war, the Workers League fights to develop the political consciousness and self-confidence of the working class. The working people themselves must decide their own fate, not the millionaires in the Democratic and Republican parties who claim to “represent” them. At the same time, we make clear that a popular vote by itself cannot bring this war to a halt. Despite their rhetoric about “freedom” and “democracy,” the Democratic and Republican parties will ferociously oppose the demand that the people be allowed to vote to stop the war being waged in the Persian Gulf. So degenerate has American capitalist democracy become that not a single Democratic or Republican politician can propose such an elementary measure as to consult the mass of working people on the question of a military conflict in which tens if not hundreds of thousands will lose their lives. Even if the referendum were to pass, the working class would have to enforce it through its own independent strength, against the attempts of the capitalist government to ignore the outcome or engineer a pretext to overturn it.

The ruling class, which makes use of democratic forms to spread the illusion that the American people control the government, drops this democratic mask whenever its vital interests are threatened. Imperialist war brings with it mounting attacks on democratic rights. The state of emergency declared by Bush at the onset of the crisis last August provides the legal basis for the arrest and detention of political opponents of the war, the outlawing of strikes, the suppression of demonstrations, and a wave of other repressive actions that will go well beyond the level of the Vietnam period. The FBI has begun systematic intimidation of Arab-Americans, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service has established a roster of all Iraqi immigrants, the first step toward a mass roundup and detention in concentration camps like those used for Japanese-Americans in World War II. The request by Detroit Mayor Coleman Young for National Guard troops to suppress alleged “terrorism”—in the city with the country’s largest Arab-American population—is a warning of the measures that will be taken.

The Workers League calls on workers to raise the demand for a referendum on the gulf war throughout the labor movement, but we warn against any illusion that the State Department operatives, paid agents of big business and Mafia bosses who comprise the trade union bureaucracy can or will conduct any struggle against imperialism. The Bush administration has already received vital assistance for its military adventure from the trade union bureaucracy, which has straitjacketed the opposition of the working class. The labor movement has been severely weakened by 10 years of betrayed and defeated struggles, from PATCO to Greyhound and the New York Daily News. Every section of the AFL-CIO bureaucracy supports the war effort of US imperialism. The privileged bureaucrats serve as recruiting sergeants and political policemen for big business. The campaign for a referendum on the gulf war is directed at mobilizing workers and youth to drive the prowar bureaucrats out of the unions and rebuild and reorganize the labor movement on new, revolutionary foundations.

At present, the massive opposition to imperialist war is being paralyzed by the policies of the bureaucracy. The trade union bureaucrats take no responsibility for the lives of the tens of thousands of working class youth who have been sent to the deserts of Saudi Arabia, or for the fate of thousands of union members already called up for military service in reserve and National Guard units. Not one American union has taken a principled internationalist position, opposing US aggression against the Iraqi workers and peasants. The positions within the bureaucracy, from flag-waving militarism to reliance on economic sanctions, simply mirror the tactical disputes within the ruling class over how to defend imperialist interests. Not one union has even consulted its own members on their attitude to the gulf war. In the central headquarters of the AFL-CIO in Washington, a nest of State Department-trained officials headed by AFL-CIO President Lane Kirkland works in intimate collaboration with the antilabor conspiracies of the CIA and the Bush administration throughout the world.

The political struggle against imperialist war therefore raises the most decisive question facing the working class: the necessity to build a new revolutionary leadership in the labor movement. The campaign for a referendum on the gulf war will require a struggle within every union to drive out the privileged bureaucrats who defend the interests of the bosses and the capitalist government and betray the rank-and-file workers. Workers must demand the widest discussion of the gulf war in every union, and the opening of local union meetings to debate the war, with representatives of all political tendencies in the workers movement. By driving out the bureaucracy and building anew revolutionary leadership, the unions can be transformed into weapons of struggle for the whole working class, to fight against growing poverty, unemployment and war.

While the Bush administration’s onslaught against Iraq has the full support of the world bourgeoisie, the international working class has already responded to the gulf war with massive opposition. Millions of workers and youth have demonstrated against US imperialism in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, showing in practice the international unity of the working class. The capitalist system can offer the working class nothing but mounting world economic crisis and the outbreak of a new world war, this time with nuclear weapons. The only alternative is to unite the international working class in a common struggle to abolish the profit system, through the world socialist revolution. The Workers League and the International Committee of the Fourth International are fighting to build an international party to unite the working class. This is the only basis for a victorious struggle against the capitalist system. We call on all workers and youth to join the Workers League, build it as the new revolutionary leadership and take up the fight now against the imperialist war in the Persian Gulf.

  • Stop the war in the Persian Gulf!
  • Demand a referendum! Let the people vote on war!
  • Withdraw all US troops from the Middle East!
  • Lift the imperialist blockade of Iraq!
  • No confidence in Congress or the Democratic politicians!
  • Build a Labor Party to fight for a workers government and socialism!
  • For the international unity of the working class! Workers of the world, unite!