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As European anti-war movement debates intervention

17. October 2006

Thousands march in solidarity with resistance

By John Catalinotto
Published Oct 15, 2006

A protest demonstration held in Rome on Sept. 30 illustrates an important political argument that is taking place within the anti-war movement in Western Europe, and within the workers’ and communist movements. This debate is also important for these movements within the United States.

At the roots of this debate are two questions: Can a NATO country make a “humanitarian” military intervention? Should the anti-war movement raise slogans and take political actions that are in solidarity with the resistance movements in the countries occupied by the imperialists?

Though these questions are being debated in many European countries, their expression in Italy illustrates the key issues most clearly. The central question there is what position the movement should take toward the “center-left” Italian government’s decision to participate in the occupation of Afghanistan and in UNIFIL—the “United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon”—in southern Lebanon.

One report from Rome said 10,000 people heeded the organizers’ call to march through the Italian capital on Sept. 30 in solidarity with the resistance movements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon. (Anti-imperialist Camp)

The march was 100 percent opposed to U.S. and Israeli military intervention in those countries. That position is shared by most Italian and most European anti-war organizations. Along with its open solidarity with the resistance, what distinguished this protest is that the marchers also demanded the Italian government pull its troops back from both Afghanistan and Lebanon. Washington has given the Italian government a central role in UNIFIL in policing Lebanon to prevent arms from going to Hezbollah.

The protest’s organizers were a dozen left communist and anti-imperialist parties and groups. Some independent labor unions also endorsed the protest.

Much more massive anti-war demonstrations have been called by the official anti-war movement in Italy. Yet organizers rightfully called the action of 10,000 a “political success”—or at least a “turning point”—because it showed the movement could mobilize around a clear and strong anti-imperialist position without the support of the “institutional peace movement.” (Communist Network)

As some of its organizers pointed out, the Rome protest directly confronted the Italian ruling class and the new “center-left” government. This government recently replaced the far-right regime of Premier Silvio Berlusconi, the pro-U.S. billionaire media magnate, whom all Italian progressives despise.

Lenin’s contribution

It is helpful to refer to the historical analysis made by V.I. Lenin, leader of the party that led the 1917 Russian Revolution. The reversal of that revolution in 1989-1991 may have made it less fashionable to read Lenin, but it has not changed his supremacy in developing revolutionary strategy for the working class. Lenin made especially strong contributions to understanding two key questions relevant to this current debate.

One is the danger to communist parties of accepting ministerial positions in a government that is in charge of the capitalist state and that serves the interests of the capitalist ruling class. Instead of capturing the office, the office can capture the communists.

The second is the vital importance of the working class in the imperialist countries acting in solidarity with the struggle for self-determination of the colonies or oppressed countries against imperialism, whether or not communists are leading these movements. Lenin and the Bolsheviks made this a cardinal principle of the revolution.

Regarding the “institutional peace movement,” the most significant absentee at the Italian protest was the Refoundation Communist Party (PRC). The PRC, with 41 seats in Italy’s 630-seat Chamber of Deputies, is an essential element in the current Italian “center-left” government led by Prime Minister Romano Prodi. The PRC holds some ministries and its leader, Fausto Bertinotti, is president of the Chamber of Deputies.

The PRC had the opportunity to take a principled stand against intervention in Afghanistan and Lebanon and allow the Prodi government to fall. But on July 28, the PRC broke with its own record in four prior votes, this time voting along with the other government parties to endorse and fund Italy’s military intervention in Afghanistan. Some weeks later the PRC leaders also supported and argued for Italian participation in the UNIFIL contingent in Lebanon.

Support for UNIFIL is by no means shared by all European communist parties. Some of the parties with the greatest working-class support, like the Portuguese Communist Party and the Communist Party of Greece, have strongly opposed their governments’ participation in UNIFIL.

Indeed, an extraordinary meeting of 14 communist and workers’ parties from countries of the southern and eastern Mediterranean, the Red Sea and Gulf region took place Aug. 19-20 in Athens. In their statement condemning the U.S.-backed Israeli attack on Lebanon, these parties “expressed their disagreement with the provisions of the 1701/2006 UN Security Council resolution as it represents a U.S. effort to give Israel what it could not achieve by its assault.” (

And even in countries where the official Communist Party supports the military participation in UNIFIL—as in France and Spain—there are tendencies in the overall communist movement that protest it, just as the groups in Italy did.

Role of European imperialist powers

The Rome protest debunked a false argument that some sectors of the European ruling class would like people to believe and that the PRC expounded. That is, that the European powers are somehow kinder, gentler players on the international arena than the United States is, and that this means that the progressive and anti-war movement should support these countries’ role in interventions like UNIFIL as a counter to U.S. intervention.

While no one on the left, and certainly no anti-imperialists in the United States, can deny the exceedingly aggressive character of U.S. imperialism, it is still true that the European NATO powers have the same class character as the United States. This character has not changed simply because these countries were driven out of their former colonies all over the world and no longer rule most of them directly. Just like U.S. capitalists, those in Europe—and Japan—exploit the resources and labor of much of the world through their investment, their banks, their control of technology and communications, and their participation in military occupations, often under the Pentagon’s leadership.

Even where there were sharp conflicts of interest between the European Union and the United States, on almost all key issues the imperialists have closed ranks against colonial uprisings, socialist countries and any nations defending their independence. Think of Yugoslavia, which they bombed and now occupy, as well as the condemnations of socialist Cuba, today’s hostility to Iran and especially to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

It’s true that some of the EU powers—France and Germany—opposed what they considered a foolish and dangerous U.S.-British assault on Iraq, but only because they could gain nothing from it. They have joined the occupations of Haiti and Congo and the fighting in Afghanistan. Despite their economic rivalry, they cooperate militarily to assure they get a share of the loot. It is completely unreasonable to argue that they could carry out a “humanitarian” or progressive occupation.

Solidarity with the resistance

The other key question is whether the movements in the West should welcome the victory of the resistance movements over the imperialist interventions.

Except for the secular part of the resistance in Iraq, the struggles against imperialist domination in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq are now being fought under the banner of Islam. There is no doubt that the European and U.S. ruling classes have stirred up and exacerbated hatred against the Islamic-led movements and even against the religion itself—from Bush’s phony charge of “Islamo-fascism” to the slanders from Pope Benedict.

This anti-Islamic campaign comes not from the religious prejudices of the rulers—although they are prejudiced and racist to the core—but because they fear that the liberation struggles taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon under the banners of Islam will awaken broader sections of the Islamic masses across North Africa and half of Asia to struggle against imperialism.

When the liberation struggles were led by communists, the campaign of demonization was just as vicious. Indeed, Fidel Castro and Kim Jong Il are still slandered daily, but they are attacked for being godless rather than worshiping in the “wrong” way.

The truth is that the resistance movements have exposed the weaknesses of the U.S. bully that has been attempting to intimidate the whole world into submission. Anti-imperialists in the Western countries should see these movements as an important cutting edge in the current struggle to do away with oppression and exploitation on a world scale. Their struggles must be supported, regardless of ideology.

In addition, as a Pakistani progressive wrote in 2003, the mass movement in the West against the Iraq War and solidarity with the oppressed of the region create an opening for secular and Marxist movements in countries like Pakistan to more easily reach out to the masses.

In the U.S. movement

The anti-war and especially the communist movement in the imperialist countries—and that includes the United States—should not only fight against anti-Islamic prejudices.

They should do all they can to assure the withdrawal of the imperialist forces from the occupied countries with, as the Italian anti-imperialists say, “no ifs or buts.”

In the United States there is no question of the Bush government being “kinder, gentler.” The problem is more to avoid being deceived by those politicians, mostly Democrats, who argue that “Iraq is stretching the Army to the breaking point” or that “Iraq is making it impossible to face the U.S.’s real enemies and intervene in Iran and North Korea.” They criticize the war on Iraq because it has become a disaster for U.S. imperialism, not because it is slaughtering Iraqis. And they offer no way out because, they say, “We [U.S. imperialism] can’t afford to lose.”

It is not the responsibility of the anti-war movement to improve the tactics of U.S. imperialism. Anyone interested in the liberation of humanity from imperialist subjugation, who wants to end the bloody occupation of Iraq, who wants to stop U.S. youths from killing and dying for the sake of big capital, has nothing to fear from the U.S. military’s inability to police the world.

The movement here should fight to deny funds to the Pentagon, support resisters inside the U.S. military and those who refuse to fight, and discourage young people from joining the armed forces while fighting to offer them viable economic alternatives. In addition it should support all those progressive struggles, from the rights of immigrants to the right of return for Katrina survivors, that make it more difficult for the ruling class here to wage wars abroad.

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