The decision to send more British troops, and call up more reservists, to Iraq marks a significant deepening of the crisis generated by the occupation ('Blood, oil and lies', October SR).
As well as evoking Vietnam, this issue will only add to the developing splits in the ruling class, now stuck between the dilemma of 'no retreat' and denial of 'mission creep'. They are unable to resolve this crisis of their own making, unless they make the Iraqis pay the price.
The anti-war movement must take up the specific issue of increasing troop numbers as a concrete campaigning issue. Firstly, in solidarity with the Iraqi people in ending the occupation. Secondly, because it's young working class men and women who are being sent to die in the deserts and streets of Iraq. Why? To further the interests of US and British multinationals. 'What's in it for us?' they might ask.
The current deployment of British troops is a continuation of 100 years of imperialist meddling and murder in the region. This is not the first time that British troops have occupied Basra and its oil refineries. And as always it's the 'poor that do the dying, the rich that do the lying'. Anti-war activists campaigning in Greater Manchester in predominantly working class areas, regularly meet people who have a son, brother or partner in the armed forces, and serving in Iraq. They are not happy.
They are influenced by general anti-war arguments that the war was 'about oil and US power', but equally they are pulled by the idea of 'serving queen and country' and consider that you are, to varying degrees, 'unpatriotic' and therefore undermining the support for 'our boys', and by implication their own relatives.
We have to take on these ideas from the left and bring these people into the anti-war camp. We need to deploy the argument, that the best support that can be given to their serving family members is to pull them out of Iraq, and harm's way. We should say that their family member should not be the one who pays the 'blood sacrifice' for the benefit of oil and capital.
By developing a strategy based on a class analysis, we can undermine the jingoism that is latent in the phrase 'supporting our boys'. If 'our boys' are so treasured, why are such a high proportion of ex-service personnel homeless? What about the hidden misery of those who suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome? More Falklands veterans have now committed suicide than actually died in the conflict. If we raise these class arguments loud and confidently they will get through to the front line (e-mail makes that easier). Who knows what the impact could be?
How do we build a campaign around the concrete demands of No Occupation - Bring the Troops Back - No 'Blood Sacrifice' For Oil?
We could publish statements, signed by ex-service personnel and reservists, to raise the profile. The impact of demonstrations calling for troops out, with families of serving troops on them, would be politically potent, but just as important, and crucial, is the process by which they arrive.
This is a new and developing arena of struggle. Socialists cannot leave it uncontested. We have something to say and a historical experience to draw upon. The Bolsheviks excelled at fraternisation and barrack room agitation. It is applying the same principle on a small scale. Haven't revolutions been determined by when the rank and file of the military change sides?
By integrating the fight for troops out into the anti-war struggle, we can only deepen and develop the forces against Bush and Blair's occupation. Consider this: if Blair is, and is seen to be removed by the anti-war movement, it would isolate Bush even further, at home and abroad. It would be the most significant victory for the anti-war movement since Vietnam. It would forestall and challenge the 'war on terrorism'. It would further serve as a warning to other governments, and have an impact on the struggle in the Middle East and on the global stage.
We need to think through how we are going to 'break the chains of imperialism where the links are forged'. Blair is the 'weakest link' and it's time to throw him off the podium.
As Tony Cliff wrote from Jerusalem in 1945, in the concluding paragraph of 'The Middle East at the Crossroads', 'Only the overthrow of imperialism will enable the masses of the east to free themselves from economic and political subjugation and will free the English masses from the necessity of being cannon fodder for finance capital.' We are again at a crossroads.