The working-class and the war

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Sep 30 14:36:27 MDT 2001


[Posted to World Systems Network mailing list by Alan Spector, a
sociologist who knows who the real enemy is.]

The analysis ...[to which I'm responding that said that Americans are in
lockstep blindly marching for war] ...makes some accurate points, but it is
based on superficial stereotypes. It is true that for now the working class
of the United States will generally fall in line and support a
pro-imperialist war. That should not be surprising. The news blackout in
this supposedly "most free" country in the world has always been
extreme.  But the initial support for U.S. military involvement in the
Vietnam War was almost unanimous, and it was only two or three years before
millions were in opposition, from working class students at public
universities to proletarians in uniform in the military and even blue
collar workers on the job, who organized a massive, militant strike wave,
despite being told that it would "hurt the war effort."  And black working
class people in the cities rebelled against racism hundreds of times,
despite being told that it would "hurt the war effort."

Because of a lack of understanding of imperialism and because of the
general news censorship, the working class generally actively, or passively
supported U.S. imperialism many times since then. There was general support
when President Ford attacked North Korea over the seizing of the ship
Mayaguez. There was general support for the invasion of Greneda and Panama.
The massive number of deaths (several hundred thousand) caused by U.S.
foreign policy in Guatemala and El Salvador & Colombia, & Chile, to name
just a few) was not opposed, in general, although a movement over El
Salvador did develop in the 1980's.  The Iran-Iraq war, provoked in large
part by the U.S., which armed both sides at different times, killed perhaps
a million, and the U.S. working class did not object to that.  During the
Gulf War, support for the U.S. military effort was very strong, and during
the "Iran hostage crisis" of 1980, the patriotism was at a fever pitch.

Here is my point:  The current crisis has been brought on by something
much, much, much more intense than any of those incidents. Not only have
"foreigners" struck against the U.S. on U.S. soil, but there were civilian
deaths. Not just fifty, which would have provoked massive outrage, but
rather fifty multiplied by one hundred --- actually about 6,000 dead,
including many working class people. Six thousand killed on U.S. soil, and
watched again and again by hundreds of millions on television, night after
night.

Yet in spite of that, there is NOT the kind of one-sided massive,
irrational call for war among the working class. Don't misunderstand me.
For now, the people of the U.S. would go along with a war, especially if
there is any more violent attacks against civilians. But the support is not
as deep as you might believe, including among the working class.

How do I know this?  I live in a blue collar, working class city near
Chicago. Yes, one can see the flags flying. But it was, at its peak,
perhaps one house out of five. In the parking lot of the working class
college where I work, there were flags on less than 2% of the
automobiles.  The university called for a forum where two instructors
addressed 250 students and mainly just said that terrorism was bad. When a
professor offered an anti-imperialist analysis, attempting to explain the
imperialist roots of all this violence, dozens of students applauded. When
one of the forum speakers criticized the anti-imperialist, he received
virtually no support.  Students in classes were shocked and angry against
the terrorism, but very open to an understanding that imperialism has
created a world where billions are miserable, and different capitalist
factions are fighting and using religion as a way to effectively tap into
people's alienation and mobilize them for violence.  At a patriotic
memorial service on campus, all the speakers but one asked for "peace" and
said that the U.S. should not be careful not to start a war that will kill
thousands more civilians. That would be doing the same thing that the
terrorists did.  The one politician who gave a strong pro-war speech got
almost no applause.   This is not University of California Berkely or Santa
Cruz. This campus is not Wisconsin or Wellesley. This is not a campus of
"the Left" or of strong "counter-cultural" middle income youth. The
students are children or grandchildren of steel workers, bound for careers
in teaching, nursing, social services, some to engineering, or low level
management jobs. This is an accurate cross section of the U.S.

Do they generally understand and oppose imperialism?  No.  Can they be
"scared" into supporting a fascist regime at home and a big war
abroad?  Yes.  But do they have a genuine concern for civilians around the
world, and a concern that many more innocent people not be killed. The
answer to that is also yes.  This is more true today than it was during the
Gulf War and much more true than it was during the Iran hostage crisis. And
this is with daily repeats of the news of 6,000 burned or crushed to death.

Why the skepticism is hard to say. Maybe having two million in jail, and a
slumping economy, and a president who stole the election has created some
cynicism. Maybe some of the anti-imperialist rhetoric over the past thirty
years has had an impact. Maybe partly it also reflects ambiguity on the
part of some of the big capitalists, who have to "strike" carefully so that
they don't end up isolated in a war against a billion followers of Islam.

To sum:  yes, the American working class is generally supportive of
capitalism in the abstract and generally patriotic. But it is one-sided and
superficial to make an analysis like the one below which says that the U.S.
working class it totally supportive of a genocidal war. Those who really
have a base of support and know what people are thinking, understand the
contradictions, have a more accurate view of the complexities of the
situation and understand that the dangers and opportunties are both
growing. The dangerous side grows faster, of course. But there is more than
one side to every development, and what we do makes a big difference.

Alan Spector

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