What is Our Alternative to Imperialist War?

What is our alternative to imperialist war? As anti-war activists we are asked this question all the time. Quite often we are unable to give a good answer. But few questions are more important. Here are my conclusions:

The current war is one in an endless series of wars which US imperialism must wage to achieve and defend world domination. Such wars are an inevitable product of the political and economic system of imperialism--which is the form assumed, under modern conditions, by bourgeois rule.

What is bourgeois rule?

The bourgeoisie is a class that is created by the capitalist system. The bourgeois class is the class of capitalist owners (and stockholders) whose material basis of existence (ie: income, property) is derived from the profits of the exploitation of workers. The bourgeoisie is one of three major classes in society, the other major classes being the proletariat (ie: the working class) and the petti-bourgeoisie (ie: the class of small business owners who think and act sometimes like capitalists and sometimes like workers).

The bourgeoisie as a class dominates society. Bourgeois ideology (in its myriad forms) dominates culture. The economy of capitalist society revolves around the need of the bourgeoisie for profits. And the politics of capitalist society are dominated by bourgeois political interests either directly (by mainstream Republican and Democratic Party politics) or indirectly (by political trends which combine a struggle for necessary reforms with the promotion of "necessary illusions" such as that our society is a democracy and that the bourgeoisie will allow its domination of society to be ended peacefully).

Our solution

And end to imperialist war requires an end to the political and economic system of imperialism; requires an end to the system of bourgeois rule. What is our alternative to the system of bourgeois rule? Our solution is the rule of society by the working class.

Is working class rule possible?

However the dominant view, today, is that the working class is incapable of running society better than the bourgeoisie. This view is dominant for three reasons:

  1. historically--the efforts to establish working class rule (ie: the Paris Commune of 1871, Lenin's 1917 revolution, Mao's 1949 victory in China, etc) were either crushed by external forces or suffocated as they degenerated internally.

  2. The bourgeoisie promotes this view

  3. Left and progressive trends (which should be promoting the idea that the working class can run society better than the bourgeoisie) are paralyzed on this question due to the theoretical bankruptcy of progressive thought on this question.

  • The dominant view is wrong. The political and economic system of imperialism (ie: the system of bourgeois rule) is doomed because imperialist rivalry and imperialist war and all the other diseases of bourgeois rule are bring increasing misery to billions, are delaying necessary economic development and are destroying the earth's environment and resources.

  • Working class rule is inevitable. Earlier attempts to establish working class rule were defeated by a combination of unfavorable circumstances, imperialist pressure and wrong (or opportunist) conceptions concerning how to mobilize the revolutionary energy of the masses.

  • Conditions are maturing for the victory of the working class in a country like the United States (where we all live). The working class learns from history and, in particular, that the historic degeneration and failure of the attempts at workers' rule in the Soviet Union is a sobering reminder of what happens when a corrupt strata of society is allowed to cloak its actions in secrecy and act against the will and interests of the masses.

  • The failure of the left and progressive movements to encourage discussion of workers' rule in a way that is both realistic and intelligent--must be overcome. We must encourage activists to talk about questions like this.

How would the United States deal with terrorism
if the U.S. were run by the working class?

Obviously any attempt to answer such a question involves a fair amount of speculation. But speculation, if it is on a scientific footing, can be useful.

First--it is unclear if terrorism would even exist in a world in which the working class had assumed power in a modern country like the United States. The roots of radical Islamic terrorism lie in the conditions of misery of more than a hundred million Arab people. The populations of the countries of the Middle East are exploited and harshly suppressed by their reactionary ruling classes and their governments with the full approval and support of U.S. imperialism. U.S. imperialism, as part of its efforts to dominate the strategic petroleum-rich region, has committed immense crimes and caused untold misery:

  • The CIA overthrew the nationalist Mossadeq of Iran in 1953 and installed the hated shah Reza Pahlavi.
  • When the shah was overthrown in 1978 U.S. imperialism helped to engineer a bloody war between Iran and Iraq in which a million people died.
  • U.S. imperialism purposely worked to draw their rival Soviet imperialists into the invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, touching off a twenty year period of civil war in which more than a million and a half died, many more millions were turned into refugees and precious irrigation systems and other infrastructure were destroyed (contributing to the current famine).

In addition to this there is:

  • U.S. support for the suppression of the nationalist aspirations of the Kurds in Turkey (and the region as a whole),
  • the deaths of at least half a million Iraqi children because U.S. sanctions (for example) do not allow the import of technology that would allow Iraq to rebuild the water purification systems destroyed by U.S. bombs in 1991,
  • the suppression of the Palestinian struggle for a national homeland, democratic rights and land and water rights stolen from them by U.S. imperialism's client state of Israel,
  • the support of notoriously corrupt and reactionary regimes like that ruling Saudi Arabia, and
  • the list goes on and on.

Terrorist organizations like al-Qaida do not represent the interests of the Arab masses. Rather they represent the material interests of a section of the Arab bourgeoisie, which resents U.S. imperialism's domination of the region and increasingly wants to either dominate the region itself or cut a better deal for itself in its dealings with the imperialists. These terrorist organizations, despite their reactionary nature, often enjoy substantial mass support because (a) they are seen by the masses of the region as fighting U.S. imperialism, and (b) progressive and democratic currents in the region (which would offer a genuine alternative to the masses) are ruthlessly suppressed.

For purposes of this leaflet, let's assume that terrorists in other countries would exist and would carry out terrible attacks against civilians in a United States of the Working Class (or whatever it would be called). How would the United States respond? Would it bomb Arab cities? Would it intensify the starvation of a country like Afghanistan?

Of course not.

A modern country run by the working class (something that, so far, has never existed) would (a) work to support democratic and progressive currents in every country on earth--while recognizing that it does not get to choose who comes to power, and (b) work to promote genuine economic development of the kind that would alleviate the misery of the masses of every region. Needless to say, a working class government would not flood its own population with reactionary news and propaganda like we see today (where the "free press" ignores the fate of a hundred villagers wiped out by U.S. bombs while devoting endless airplay to the death of a single U.S. soldier). Rather, a government of the working class would work ceaselessly to raise the consciousness of its own population about the true conditions of life and the true history of people everywhere--including their valiant, historic struggles against the greatest enemy of the workers and peoples of the world--U.S. imperialism.

Theoretical issues must be resolved

Theoretical issues must be resolved before we can develop a better understanding of how working class rule would function in a modern country like the United States. History has left the water very muddy on this topic. The most well-known attempts at working class rule (ie: Lenin's October 1917 revolution and the victory in China of Mao's forces in 1949) led to societies based on thought control (ie: a police state where a monopoly of political thought was enforced by a single party regime that ruled like feudal lords and suppressed all serious opposition). It is a measure of the backwardness of pre-revolutionary Russia and China that the single party police states that emerged out of revolution represented an improvement in the living conditions of the masses. But these states did not represent the rule of the working class.

It is important to recognize that once the working class assumes power it will need to take measures to suppress bourgeois attempts at restoration. But the key question is whether these measures will also suppress the independent voice and life of the working class. The real issue, as I see it, are the kinds of democratic rights that will exist in society after bourgeois rule has been overthrown.

Democratic rights under workers' rule

Will workers have the right to create independent organizations capable of mobilizing mass opinion against the incompetence, hypocrisy and corruption of the policies or people of their own state? My conclusion is: yes. At least in the context of a modern state with a functioning economy and a working class majority. Any other conclusion leads in the direction of a society that has a lower productivity of labor than modern capitalism. Such a society could never survive in the context of the modern world--as was demonstrated by the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The central theoretical question
of our time

The central theoretical question of our time is whether we can develop an outline of an alternative to bourgeois rule that does not insult the intelligence of ordinary people. This should be one focus of work (out of many) for every organization that is genuinely progressive. Because until this is done the goal of the overthrow of bourgeois rule will remain essentially unthinkable--and the movement for the overthrow of bourgeois rule will never be able to assume the form of a mass movement.

-- Ben Seattle -- January 12, 2002

Recommended websites:

The Seattle Anti-Imperialist Alliance
Working to build an anti-imperialist backbone in the anti-war movement.
Website includes their recent leaflet:
The "war on terror"---an imperialist nightmare

Proletarian Democracy
How will economics, politics and culture work
when the working class runs modern society?
Includes mini-bulletin board and email list

17 Theses on the Destiny of
the Revolution in Communications
and the Concept of Workers' Rule

I. Eight Theses on the Destiny of
the Concept of Workers' Rule
II. Nine Theses on the Emerging
Revolution in Communications
and it Significance for the Awakening
of Proletarian Political life and Consciousness


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