Fighting for what we want

October 17, 2008

Ashley Smith of the International Socialist Organization gave this speech at the October 11 antiwar demonstration in Boston.

MORE THAN 40 years ago, in 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. launched his final fight. He denounced the Vietnam War, declaring that the U.S. was the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world." He saw that the war abroad was tied to the war at home. He realized that the money spent on guns meant there was no money left for butter.

King and his fellow activists organized the poor people's campaign that built a tent city to occupy Washington, D.C., until the government agreed to a guaranteed income for all Americans.

He proclaimed, "if our nation can spend $35 billion a year to fight an unjust, evil war in Vietnam, and $20 billion to put a man on the moon, it can spend billions of dollars to put God's children on their own two feet right here on earth."

Today, we gather on the anniversary of Congress's vote in 2002 to authorize George Bush to invade and occupy Iraq. We confront a crisis in our world eerily similar to that which King protested.

Today, we face a U.S. government that has waged wars on Afghanistan and Iraq that will cost over $3 trillion. Today, we face an economy that already had savage inequalities and is now facing the greatest crisis of the capitalist system since the Great Depression.

Antiwar protesters marched in Boston on the sixth anniversary of the congressional vote to authorize the Iraq war.
Antiwar protesters marched in Boston on the sixth anniversary of the congressional vote to authorize the Iraq war. (Keith Rosenthal | SW)

We face the twin evils of the system--war and economic crisis. Far from doing anything to end these twin evils, the masters of the economy and war seem intent to make the crises worse and force us to pay with our money, our jobs, our homes, and our lives.

At the beginning of this so-called "war on terror," Howard Zinn gave a speech that cut through all the deceitful rhetoric from Bush and Congress. He said simply, "Governments lie." He was right; our government lied us into the entire war on terror. They claimed it was in response to 9/11, would bring democracy and free markets to oppressed people, and liberate women.

Their real aims have become clear; they aimed to seize control of Central Asia and the Middle East and their strategic oil reserves. They planned to first topple the Taliban, and then conduct regime changes in Iraq, Syria, North Korea and Iran and continue U.S. support for Israel's occupation of Palestine.

By establishing their dominion over Central Asia and the Middle East's energy reserves, they could control the entire world economy and, in their words, prevent the rise of any peer competitor. The entire war on terror is a ruse for imperialist aggression.

The imperialist wars in Afghanistan and Iraq provide proof beyond a shadow of a doubt. In Afghanistan, they claimed it was about getting bin Laden, liberating the country from the Taliban and establishing a new democracy. They have failed on all these fronts, because these were never their goals.

War-monger Robert Kaplan stated last week in the New York Times that their real aim was to install a pro-American government that would oversee "the construction of a web of energy pipelines that have been envisioned for years connecting Central Asia with the Indian Ocean."

In pursuit of such aims, they have destroyed Afghanistan. They entrusted the government to warlords, bombed villages and fueled a new resistance against the NATO occupation. Now they are mired in what the National Intelligence Estimate calls a "spiral downward" confronted with a resistance they cannot defeat.

Undeterred, they moved onto Iraq. Whatever they said about "weapons of mass destruction," we know, as former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan famously admitted, "the Iraq War is largely about oil."

To seize Iraq's oil, the U.S. repressed and divided the Iraqi people, precipitated a civil war, and left the economy in ruins. Their occupation has killed over 1 million, displaced 5 million people from their homes, and sacrificed thousands of American soldiers.

BUT THE resistance in Iraq and now Afghanistan has hobbled the U.S. war machine and stopped it from rolling through the rest of the Middle East and Central Asia.

The U.S. forgot its own history, a history emblazoned on plaques throughout the city of Boston. When people--whether Americans, Iraqis or Afghans--are occupied, they will resist and fight for their right to self-determination.

Confronted with indigenous resistance, the U.S. called off its plans for further regime changes and is managing crisis-ridden occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Iraq, they have bought temporary peace by hiring the Sunni resistance, accepting a truce with Moktada al-Sadr's, and compromising with the Shia government. This fragile stability could easily fall apart with a return to U.S. repression, sectarian civil war and bloodshed.

In Afghanistan, they aim to escalate the war, defeat or buy off the Taliban, and impose their pipeline agenda in Central Asia. Ominously, in this battle for Central Asia's energy reserves and pipeline routes, the U.S. is coming into conflict with Russia and China, two nuclear powers.

We got a taste of the potential conflagration in the proxy war between the U.S. and Russia over Georgia. They are leading us toward the precipice of inter-imperialist war.

Don't think for a moment that the U.S. has abandoned its wider imperialist agenda. Both tickets for the White House aim to revitalize a wounded U.S. imperialism. Look at the knuckle-dragging Republican Ticket. John McCain and the affable and moronic Sarah Palin declare victory in Iraq. McCain sings about bombing Iran. And they rave about Russia and China's threat to the U.S.

But far from providing an antiwar alternative, Barack Obama and Joe Biden agree with the Republicans. Just watch the so-called debates, which on the war resemble a mutual admiration society!

They agree that the U.S. is having success in Iraq--an idea that is frankly hard to fathom after they have killed over a million people. They agree that the U.S. should expand into Afghanistan. They agree that the U.S. has to isolate and, if necessary, attack Iran. And they agree that the U.S. must confront Russia and China in Central Asia. Both parties just came together to pass another record military budget of over $600 billion on top of $700 billion bailout of Wall Street's rich.

CLEARLY, IF Obama and the Democrats win the election, they will implement this bipartisan imperialist agenda, and it has nothing to do with helping the nations they have invaded.

We must oppose their so-called war on terror, full stop. No compromises. We must demand immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Iraq, reparations to these nations to repair the damage done, and no war or sanctions on Iran. Further we must demand an end to Israel's occupation of Palestine.

We will not win these demands through the ballot box. Neither ticket agrees with them. We cannot wait for manna from heaven. Instead we must compel the masters of war to stop their slaughter. As Howard Zinn wrote, "The critical thing is not who is sitting in the White House, but who is sitting in."

We must fight for what we want. That is how we won everything in the 1960s and 1930s--strikes, demonstrations, and sit-ins--that forced change on an unwilling ruling class.

We must build the Campus Antiwar Network to mobilize students; we must build Iraq Veterans against the War to mobilize vets and GIs; and we must build U.S. Labor Against the War to mobilize workers' power to shut down workplaces, just like the longshoremen did on the West Coast when they struck against the war on May 1. We must organize these forces to rebuild a mass movement in the streets, bases, campuses and workplaces against the war machine.

We face horrible realities today--the complete failure of the free market and unrelenting and expanding war. Our ruler's priorities are bailouts for billionaires and budgets for war and occupation.

Only our struggle, the struggle of workers, antiwar soldiers and students can win bailouts for us and budgets for homes, jobs, education, and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast. As Martin Luther King said during the poor people's campaign, "We're involved in class struggle."

We need to start building a new people's campaign--against war, class inequality, all the oppressions of the system, and for a new society that puts human beings before profit and empire.

Further Reading

From the archives