Jan 31, 1983
Last November, a nuclear freeze proposal was passed in eight states, in most
of them by large majorities. The freeze proposal was also passed in Washington
D.C., Chicago, Philadelphia, Denver, and twenty-eight smaller cities. It was defeated
only in Arizona and in two smaller counties in Arkansas and Colorado. Before last November, the freeze proposal had already been passed in Wisconsin by a popular vote, and in over 400 town meetings in the New England states. The popular support for the freeze has been so strong that a number of representatives in government have also jumped on the bandwagon: the freeze has passed in 275 city councils and in twelve state legislatures.
Coming after the June 12 anti-nuclear demonstration, these votes are a further indication that a substantial majority of the U.S. population fears a nuclear war, and that there is at least an apprehension towards if not a distrust in the government’s nuclear policy. The anti-nuclear movement has successfully crystalized these sentiments around the freeze proposal.
Now the anti-nuclear movement is posing the question of where to go from here. For some organizations, winning a vote of the Congress for the freeze proposal is the next step. And already a call for a "freeze lobby" has been made for March. Some organizations want to build opposition to the introduction of particular new weapons, such as the MX missile. Some others are focusing now on a demand to supplement the freeze, calling for a no-first-strike pledge by the U.S. government to match that of the Soviet Union. And a part of the movement has proposed to focus more on electoral politics, and especially the 1984 presidential election.
All of these proposals have one thing in common: either explicitly or implicitly they lead to proposing that all those who want to see an end to the threat of nuclear war should put their hopes on the bourgeois politicians.
Who are these politicians? Even those liberals who voted for the freeze, also vote to prepare the U.S. government to engage in a nuclear war. Despite all they may say in their speeches, over and over they have voted to expand the arms budget. Over and over again they support the call for the need to strengthen the military, including with nuclear weapons.
To be sure, now that the anti-nuclear movement has become popular, they have joined in. But you can see just how deep their support goes by looking at the debate on the MX. The liberals also voted to continue with the MX. They continued to fund the research and development of the missile, and they did so in a way which allows the research funds to be used to put the missiles into production today. They have held back a small part of the funding, but
only pending a fuller investigation into the basing method of the MX. Their disagreement isn’t with the deployment of the MX, but only with the method of doing so.
Even on an issue like the MX, which is more important as a hand-out to some defense contractors than it is to the Pentagon, the liberals have shown their true colors. Yet it is these politicians that the various proposals depend on. And finally, it is all these proposals do: ask people to depend on these politicians.
First of all, what is called the freeze proposal on the ballot isn’t really a call for a freeze. It is a call for the administration to seek negotiations that will lead in the direction of a freeze. The fact that the current administration would refuse even such an innocuous proposal is an indication that they don’t care, for whatever reason, to hide their aims. Yet it is the representatives of this very same government that the freeze proposal calls on to negotiate an end to the nuclear arms race.
To try to get the so-called freeze proposal passed by the Congress is to take the dependence on these politicians a step further. Now it is to depend on one set of politicians, those in Congress, to pressure another set of politicians, those in the administration, to negotiate towards a freeze.
The no-first-strike proposal is the same thing. To depend on these politicians to negotiate a freeze is bad enough. To hang the fate of humanity on their pledges and promises is downright dangerous. A president could promise not to use nuclear weapons right up until...the time they are launched. He could make whatever claim he wanted, about a first- or second-strike. What
recourse will there be – if he didn’t mean his promise.
Certainly with the Reagan administration, which openly talks about winning a nuclear war, it is not hard to see the danger. It is undoubtedly why a section of the anti-nuclear movement has chosen to look to elections, and why almost all are at least interested in making sure Reagan is not reelected. What this means when posed this way, is to take out the Republicans and put the Democrats back into office.
To tie the anti-nuclear movement to the Democratic party, however, is to seal its fate. Because the Democratic Party is a bourgeois party just like the Republican. Its history shows it has always been ready to defend the interests of imperialism, including by going to war. And it is war which is the real issue. If there is a threat of nuclear destruction, it is because there is the threat of war, a war in which the weapons used could be nuclear.
As far as war is concerned, the Democratic Party has in fact played a leading role for the bourgeoisie. It was Democratic Wilson who carried out World War I, Democratic Roosevelt in World War II, Democratic Truman in Korea, and Democrats Kennedy and Johnson in Viet Nam.
It is true that the Democrats, under John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, made some agreements with the Soviet Union on nuclear weapons. A test ban treaty and a nuclear non-proliferation treaty were even signed. A series of discussions toward disarmament were engaged. But in no way did these prevent the Democrats from continuing the development of nuclear weapons – as we see today. Neither did it prevent them from engaging in a war against
To support the Democratic Party and to focus on the freeze, or even on the reduction of nuclear arms, is to dangerously miss the point. If there is a nuclear war, it won’t be that some crazy politician or general decides to press a button. Wars, including nuclear war, are the outgrowth of the development of political or social contradictions. They happen at the point when they seem necessary to the ruling class for it to protect its interests.
If the ruling class decides to go to war, it can always find the weapons to do so. And this includes nuclear weapons. First of all, even if ninety-five percent of the existing nuclear weapons were dismantled, the remaining five percent could well do the job of killing hundreds of millions of people directly and making the environment unliveable for the rest. It is exactly this fact that today’s governments count on when they discuss having a second strike capability.
Beyond this, even if all the nuclear weapons were today dismantled, it would still not make the world safe. As long as the knowledge, the materials, and the capabilities are there to recreate the nuclear weapons, it would be easy to recreate a nuclear arsenal, just before the war or even during it. Germany was disarmed after World War I, yet Hitler managed just fine in a few short years to rebuild a military apparatus in order to enter World War II. Building a few nuclear missiles would not ask much effort today.
Certainly the decision to engage in a war with the Soviet Union, that is in a war in which nuclear confrontation could result, would not be taken lightly. The ruling class itself understands all too well what could be involved. They are not anxious to risk either their empires or their own lives in a nuclear conflagration. If the U.S. enters on the path of a war with the Soviet Union, it will only be because the ruling class believes there will be more risk to their empire if they do not go to war.
What has to happen for the ruling class to take this decision isn’t clear in its specifics. We could imagine various possible scenarios. For example, we could imagine the development of a situation where a certain number of countries are able to take a distance from U.S. imperialism. Perhaps it will be because the economic pressures, the political threats, and the CIA can’t hold back the fight of the masses within a certain number of countries. It could be when the military dictators, the regional surrogates for imperialism, and even imperialism’s own troops cannot hold back the peoples and the nations of the world from their struggle.
All of this raises a more general problem, of what it is that allows these smaller and weaker nations to continue to have the possibility to oppose the U.S., the mightiest power in the world. Certainly it is first the determination of the peoples of the world to be free from exploitation and domination. But it is also the result of the fact that there is another power in the world which stands outside the capitalist order. The simple fact that a power like the Soviet Union exists, gives the other weaker countries the room to maneuver in relationship to imperialism. An independent China, Viet Nam, or Cuba, for example, would unlikely be able to exist today if the Soviet Union did not exist. We could imagine even, that without any generalized revolt, the U.S. could attack the Soviet Union – to try to avoid in the future the kind of independence struggles we have seen over the past decades.
Politically, such a potential has existed for many years. Today this potential is being reinforced by the ever-deepening world economic crisis. The world financial markets are being strained precariously, and the level of world trade is now declining. If there is a collapse, the world could soon enter on a path of increasing political tension – a path from which the choice to go to war could appear as the rational choice to the U.S. ruling class.
Once such a confrontation begins between the U.S. and the USSR it is hard, if not impossible, to believe that it would be anything other than a question of time before nuclear weapons are launched. Each side would be on a hair’s edge, looking towards the other for fear of nuclear attack. In such a situation, all the supposed distinctions between first- and second-strike become meaningless.
When and how such a war will be engaged, no one can say. But we do know that sooner or later, if the system of imperialism continues to exist, it will lead in the direction of war. The never-ending search for profits, which is the driving mechanism of this system, carries with it the necessity for imperialism to maintain as wide a domination over the world as possible. Imperialism thus leads inevitably to conflict, both economically and politically, with the other peoples and nations of the world. This means inevitably that there will be wars. And when the conflicts created by imperialism become more generalized, it poses the need for imperialism to try to impose a more generalized solution.
If we cannot today see precisely all the steps leading us to the nuclear war, nonetheless, something is clear: imperialism has already engaged the process which must lead us there. Above all, because this system means a constantly increasing exploitation and oppression of the peoples of the world which is, however, not sufficient to prevent the contradictions in the system from growing sharper.
Each time imperialism intervenes around the world, economically, politically, or militarily, it is a sign where this system is heading. Each time the U.S. government gives aid to the dictators of Latin America, arms Israel as its agent in the Middle East, or gives its support to South Africa; each time the government takes a step towards the draft; each time it increases its
propaganda of patriotism and of a world mission against communism; each time the government demands sacrifices from workers on the job or from the population as a whole, so that it can increase its military spending – each time, we know that we are on the path, no matter how long or how short, which leads us to nuclear war.
When we see this, we can only draw the conclusion that there is no hope for humanity so long as imperialism is allowed to remain. If we want an end to the threat of nuclear war which hangs over our heads, we must also want – and work for – an end to the system which today is preparing that war.
Once the imperialist bourgeoisie decides that the war against the USSR is essential, that their empire depends on it, there will be no pressuring them out of it. No politicians, no promises, no laws, no disarmament agreements, nor any moral appeals will prevent them from carrying out their war, including to the point of using nuclear weapons. The only hope for humanity is to take power out of their hands. Preferably before such a war begins.