Socialism is the Best Medicine

Socialism is the Best Medicine

F*ck the Parliamentary Vote! Build a Worker-Based Anti-War Movement!

April 23, 2024


As activists in Canada recently learned, mass protest cannot compel a government to reject war. Why is this so, and what is the alternative?


Canada is a NATO nation governed by an alliance between the Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party (NDP). They actively support the US-Israeli genocide with military exports and falsely target anti-war activists as antisemitic. Nevertheless, horrific images of mass slaughter and starvation have turned most Canadians against the U.S.-NATO-backed Israeli war.

Responding to social pressure, the NDP introduced a non-binding resolution calling for an immediate ceasefire, an embargo on arms exports to Israel, unimpeded humanitarian access to Gaza, and recognition of the State of Palestine.

Immensely encouraged, anti-war organizations sprang into action with a cross-country campaign to phone, email, and badger Members of Parliament to endorse this resolution.

Bait and Switch

Behind the scenes, the NDP was making a deal with the Liberals to gut the resolution. The amended motion called on Hamas to lay down arms and release hostages, but not Israel. It granted Israel the right to self-defense but not Palestinians. It supported an Israeli State but not a Palestinian State. It allowed Canada to keep sending arms to Israel under current permits and placed no restriction on the continued export of military components. On March 18, Parliament approved this amended resolution.

This was a classic bait-and-switch. Anti-war activists were drawn into the trap of believing the government would respond seriously to our demands. But instead of striking a blow against the war, we got a face-saving endorsement of it.

Some say the government is turning against the war. Others aren’t buying it. As Labour 4 Palestine wrote,

This compromised motion effectively gives the current Liberal government and the entire Canadian political establishment cover to continue supporting the genocide.

Why did this happen, and what does it mean going forward?

No Democracy

Capitalism cannot allow genuine democracy. No one would freely choose to work their entire life to make others rich, yet the system requires that most people do.

The electoral system is thoroughly undemocratic. It denies the existence of classes and class conflict by treating society as a collection of individuals with equal power to decide social priorities. In reality, we are divided into classes with opposite interests. On the job and in society, the employer class dominate the working class.

The majority of people are workers. In a truly democratic society, workers would direct public policy to ensure a fully accessible medical system, housing for all, safe work, renewable energy, and no war.

We have none of these things because workers do not control production, and it is extremely rare for a working-class person to be elected to government. Elected officials must serve the business class in order to fund their electoral campaigns and advance their political careers. That means giving employers what they want and denying workers what they need.

To maintain this oppressive social arrangement, a layer of professional compromisers binds bosses and workers in the social arrangement of capitalism. They falsely claim that ordinary people can shape government policies through reasoned argument and sufficient public pressure. The March 18 Parliamentary vote proved otherwise. We forced the government to vote on the war, and they spit in our faces.

Such setbacks are a wake-up call to learn from our mistakes, clarify our goals, and chart a more effective way forward.

What Have We Achieved?

On the plus side: In just over six months, we built the largest anti-war movement in history. Millions of people around the world have come out to protest the genocidal war against Palestinians and their governments’ complicity in that monumental crime.

A recent poll of five European nations found that nearly half the respondents believe Israel is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, and more than half support a ban on arms trade with Israel.

In both Canada and the United States, the majority oppose the war, including an even larger majority of younger people.

This is a truly amazing accomplishment considering unconditional government support for Israel, the mass media’s anti-Palestinian racism, and the growing censorship, harassment, beatings, and arrests of anti-war protestors.

On the minus side: We have not stopped the war. We haven’t slowed it for a second. Since stopping the war is our goal, we need to evaluate why we have not yet achieved it and what we must do differently.

Pressure Politics

Capitalism endures because most forms of protest accept the authority of the ruling class and dismiss solutions that challenge that rule.

Mass protests aim to pressure policy makers to change what they are doing. Yet we impose no penalty when they refuse. Our sole threat has been to vote them out of office. This is an idle threat when no established political party is on our side.

When our initial protests failed to stop the Israeli war, we built bigger protests to make them listen. They are not deaf. They know what we want; we’ve made it clear enough. They dismiss our concerns because they have other priorities. They did the same thing 20 years ago.

On February 15, 2003, millions of people opposed the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq in a chain of demonstrations that circled the globe. Scores of North American cities joined protests in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, and Asia.

More than 100 American cities and counties passed anti-war resolutions, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Detroit. Many unions also passed anti-war resolutions. Sentiment against the war was so strong that the New York Times claimed, “there may still be two superpowers on the planet: the United States and world public opinion.”

In fact, there was only one. U.S. President Bush dismissed world opinion and proceeded to bomb, invade, and occupy Iraq.

Economic Pressure

Discouraged by the recent Parliamentary setback, some anti-war groups retreated into educational events, cultural activities, and fund-raising. Others are pushing for more radical action. Instead of using public protests to apply social pressure, they want to apply more social pressure by disrupting the war economy.

The global chain of production is the life-blood of capitalism. Disrupting it will certainly get media and government attention. But will it stop the war?

On April 15, anti-war activists in over 40 cities began “blocking the arteries of capitalism and jamming the wheels of production.” Pro-Palestinian protests closed bridges, ports, and major roads in multiple cities.

It was marvelous to see so many people stand up for Palestine. However, a day of economic disruption will not stop the war. Should such actions be prolonged, the State will physically remove protestors, criminalize them, and ban or bankrupt their organizations.

Anticipating arrests, the A15 website advised, “Every city should contact their local National Lawyers Guild chapter to discuss what legal support they can provide.” Raising money for legal defense diverts us from the urgent goal of ending the war.

While targeting the economy seems to be a more powerful tactic than mounting public demonstrations, it remains a moral strategy when the goal is changing government behavior.

A Morality-Based Movement

Despite shifting tactics, the anti-war movement remains morality-based. The goal of mass protest and civil disobedience is to pressure authorities to be socially responsible.

We appeal to reason and compassion. We believe we could succeed if only a critical mass of people write, phone, and petition their elected representatives. When these tactics don’t work, we blame people for not caring enough to do what we want them to do. Such moral outrage alienates potential supporters.

There is no basis for the belief that people don’t care. We know the majority oppose the war. If they aren’t joining the movement, it’s because they don’t trust politicians or governments to do the right thing. They feel powerless to even obtain life’s essentials like decent jobs and affordable housing. Stopping a war seems impossible.

To counter this sense of powerlessness, we need to understand how capitalism keeps people down and how we can build people’s confidence to work together to change the world.

A Strategy-Based Movement

An effective anti-war movement can have no illusions about why war exists, who it serves, and who can stop it.

War dominates society because capitalism is a competitive, profit-driven system. Governments ignore our demand to stop war for the same reason they ignore all our demands – PROFIT.

Despite the terrible cost to humanity and the environment, war is profitable in the short-term and can secure more profit in the long-term through expanded control over land, labor, and markets.

Back in 1869, Thomas Joseph Dunning wrote,

Capital shuns no profit just as Nature abhors a vacuum. With adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain profit of 10 percent will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent profit will produce eagerness; 50 percent positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is not a crime at which it will scruple, not a risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged. If turbulence and strife will bring a profit it will freely encourage both. (p.36)

A system based on competition can solve its conflicts only through war, and only temporarily. Ceaseless competition creates new conflicts and more war. We live in a global system of war.

Carving Up the World – Again

To understand why all NATO nations and their allies stand behind Israel, we need to look at the big picture.

When the United States emerged from World War II as the dominant nation, it proceeded to turn the entire world into its factory, becoming richer and more powerful in the process.

No empire lasts forever.

When other nations began to eclipse the U.S. as the leading economic power, the post-war global order started to collapse, taking with it the pretense of any allegiance to a so-called rules-based order.

The U.S. can only retain its global dominance by defeating its rivals. To succeed, it needs a strong NATO alliance and command of the Middle East. The war in Ukraine is key to expanding NATO, and the Israeli war is key to securing U.S./NATO control over the strategic Middle East. Both wars are preparation for the global showdown to determine who will rule the world.

Israel’s military strikes on Iran, Syria, and Lebanon, backed by the NATO powers, increase the risk of all-out war. We cannot stop Israeli imperialism without defeating the global imperialist system that requires this war and all the other wars we rarely hear about.

The War on Workers

Workers are the primary victims of war. They are the ones compelled to fight and die. They are also forced to pay the bill for war.

In 2023, the average U.S. taxpayer paid just $58 to fund anti-war diplomacy efforts and $5,109 for the military system. Taxpayers contribute more to the single largest Pentagon contractor,

As a NATO member, Canada is required to invest at least 2 percent of its GDP in military spending. In 2023, Canada spent just 1.29 percent of its GDP on the military ($36.7 billion). It needs to spend $20 billion more to reach 2 percent. Where will this money come from?

In Canada, as in every other nation gearing up for war, the cost of rising military spending will not be taken from corporate profits but from the public purse. That means slashing budgets for medical care, education, and social supports in a country where 2.4 million people already live in poverty. It means driving down public-sector workers’ wages and working conditions This process is well under way.

Instead of investing in the hospitals, housing, and schools that are so urgently needed here, government are using public money to destroy hospitals, housing, and schools in other lands. They hide this fact by falsely blaming immigrants for the lack of access to these essentials.

The war-mongers’ profit is our pain. War can only be waged at workers’ expense, giving every worker in the world a personal reason to oppose it.

The Power of Workers

It is true that the economy is central to the war effort. However, there will never be enough activists to disrupt the economy long enough to stop war. Only the global working class can do that.

Consider the port workers who refuse to load or unload ships carrying weapons to Israel and the transport workers who refuse to deliver weapons there. If every port and transport worker did the same, the war would stop, but only temporarily.

To dismantle the system of war, workers must collaborate across national borders, take collective control of the global chain of production, and block the capitalists from taking it back. Ending the rule of profit will free us to construct a cooperative, war-free economy to meet human needs. No one else can do this!

Workplace Blockades and Boycotts

Workplace blockades and boycotts pit anti-war activists against workers.

When I object that these actions can cause workers to lose pay or even their jobs, I am told they should find other jobs.

It is moralistic to insist that we can change society by convincing individuals to make different choices. It is unrealistic to think such choices exist and are available to anyone. Elite professionals may have such choices, but that is not the experience of working-class people.

  • Most people take whatever job they can find, if they can find one at all in a time of mass layoffs.
  • Industry is designed to make workers interchangeable, so any worker who leaves a job in the war industry would be quickly replaced by another worker desperate for a paycheck.
  • In a society dominated by war, every paid job supports war in some way. There are no individual solutions. We all work for the war machine.

Activists telling workers what they should do is no different from bosses telling workers what they should do. Workers have the right to make their own choices.

Unless a boycott is endorsed by the workers themselves, blockading or boycotting a workplace creates a false division between opposing the war and keeping your job. Bosses can accuse anti-war activists of being anti-worker and a threat to their livelihood, making it harder to organize anti-war activity in the workplace. In response to a consumer boycott, Starbucks stores across the Middle-East plan to axe 2,000 jobs.

As much as we wish it were otherwise, we do not have the power to stop the war at this time. We must build that power.

We know most people oppose the war, yet are powerless to stop it as individuals. We need to organize! By setting reachable goals and achieving them. we can build the organizational ability to set bigger goals and achieve them too, until we have the power to free ourselves from this nightmare.

Workers cannot stop the war machine as individuals, and they will not do it in response to outside demands. They must believe they will benefit and that they can succeed. There is simply no substitute for the patient work of supporting workers to bring anti-war activism into their workplace.

Instead of blockading a workplace, we can talk with the workers about how the drive to war lowers their living standards. Instead of boycotting a store, we can leaflet it instead, explaining why customers should not buy Israeli products and why workers should not sell them. In a capitalist society, workers have no power to decide what they produce or what they sell, but they could have that power!

The Union Establishment

To date, the anti-war movement has limited the role of workers to passing ceasefire resolutions. While many unions have passed ceasefire resolutions, union officials have not mobilized their members to join public demonstrations or encouraged them to take action on the job.

In late October, after Palestinian unions issued a global appeal to all workers to stop arming the war machine, the United Autoworkers Union (UAW) signed new contracts for over 2,000 workers in the U.S. war industry. When workers at General Dynamics voted overwhelmingly to strike, UAW officials sabotaged that action by signing a last-minute deal.

Union officials claim they have a duty to protect workers’ jobs. In fact, far more jobs would be created by shifting military funding into medical care, education, infrastructure, and clean energy.

Union officials will not shut down war production. They support government foreign policy, and they avoid activating workers for any reason. Mobilized workers get a taste of collective power. They become more demanding and resent being held back by highly paid union bureaucrats.

Big unions are big business. In the United States,

Organized labor’s $35.8 billion in combined assets would rank as the second largest foundation in the U.S., trailing the $48 billion Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Using union assets to organize workers or fight for their rights would deplete those assets. Instead, unions invest in the stock market, where they directly profit from worker exploitation and war. This is why union assets continue to rise, even as the number of unionized workers continues to fall. The number of union managers is also rising.

Between 2010 and 2020, management positions within organized labor increased by 28 percent, with more than 10,000 employees earning a gross salary over $125,000, putting labor leaders and senior management in the top tenth percentile of income in the U.S.

All major unions are integrated into the capitalist state. Their role is to support government policies and manage the labor force to keep profits flowing.

Although the UAW passed a ceasefire resolution, UAW President Shawn Fain endorsed war-monger Joe Biden for President and pledged UAW support for U.S. wars.

Canada’s unions are also integrated into the state, and the political party of Canada’s union establishment, the NDP, forms part of the ruling government.

The Question of Power

Ceasefire! is a minimal demand. A ceasefire will not stop Israel from seizing more Palestinian land or the global war that threatens our existence. It will not stop the system of war from generating new and more terrifying horrors.

Audre Lorde warned that we cannot use the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. The United Nations, the International Criminal Court, the legal system, and the electoral system are all the masters’ tools. They protect the masters’ rule by providing fake democratic cover for an oppressive and thoroughly destructive system.

There are no moral or legal means to stop war, and illegal means provoke State repression. In every nation, the mask of democracy is slipping to reveal a profit-driven system that rules by naked force, at home and abroad.

Nevertheless, capitalism has a central weakness, an Achilles heel. The capitalist war machine cannot operate without workers to manufacture, transport, and deploy its weaponry. Only workers have the power to stop the war machine.

We are too focused on the question of what should be done. We need ask who has the power to do what should be done.

Individuals do not have that power. Masses of individuals do not have that power. Only the international working class have that power.

Build a Worker-Based Anti-War Movement

Appealing to politicians, governments, and other authorities is a waste of time. Our enemies will never be our friends. We need to build a worker-based anti-war movement strong enough to defeat them.

All struggles against oppression are reflected in the global working class. A mobilized working class connects them all and gives them direction.

Capitalists know that only workers can end their war-mongering system and stop them from retaking control. To prevent this, every social institution divides workers, undermines their confidence, and stops them from fighting back effectively.

These are challenging obstacles to overcome. So are misplaced faith in government and racist, sexist, and national divisions. Only class solidarity can overcome them.

Workers have the most to lose from war and the most to gain from stopping it. We can win workers to the anti-war movement by connecting opposition to war with the fight for better jobs, higher wages, safer work, and fully funded social programs, in short, for a society that protects and provides for all.

Efforts to substitute the actions of anti-war activists for the power of the working class can never be more than theatrical and symbolic. Risky or illegal actions limit who can take part, expose activists to State repression, and make the movement too risky for ordinary people to participate.

We need more public anti-war protests, not to influence politicians, but to make rebellion socially acceptable. It is easier for workers to join public rallies and marches than to take part in illegal actions that could risk their job or someone else’s.

Public protests create a climate of rebellion that makes it easier to rebel at work. It took time for the Black freedom struggle and protests against the U.S. war in Vietnam to move from college campuses into the workplace. The result was a mass working-class revolt that transformed society.

The 1960s and early 70s were a time of economic expansion, and the ruling class were willing to trade concessions for labor peace. It is different now. The global economy is slowing and government debt is rising. Unwilling to grant concessions, States increasingly rely on violent suppression to maintain control.

Public-Sector Workers

Public sector workers are the key to building a worker-based anti-war movement.

The public sector employs workers to provide social support for the whole working class. The public sector includes hospitals, schools, postal services, social assistance, childcare, libraries, utilities, and transportation.

Work and society merge in the public sector. The working conditions of public-sector employees directly affect the quality and availability of social supports. Generous funding for public programs raises the standard of living of the entire working class. Cutting social supports increases the burden on individual workers and families.

The business class resent funding public services. They demand that public funds be used instead to boost their profits and pay for their wars. Workers depend on social programs and fight to keep them.

In every nation, the level of spending on social programs reflects the balance of power between the business class and the working class. In particular, it depends on the willingness of public-sector workers to fight for their class.

In both Canada and the United States, the rate of unionization in the public sector is more than five times higher than it is for the private sector. To weaken public-sector unions, governments impose anti-strike and wage-restraint legislation.

All workers depend on public services, so every public-sector struggle to defend them has the potential to mobilize a class-wide fight against funding the war machine at workers’ expense.

The idea of placing workers at the heart of the anti-war movement feels alien to those who believe that capitalism can be made to respond to the popular will. For those who have given up on capitalism, it is the only way forward.

We Have a World to Win

The capitalist system is like a train heading over a cliff. Most of us are conditioned to see ourselves and others as powerless passengers.

In fact, workers built the train. We laid the tracks, we supply the fuel, and every day we keep the train running. Yet we allow a tiny elite to direct the train, and they are driving it over a cliff because it profits them to do so. They believe they will be okay, even as the rest of the world crashes and burns. Some of them even welcome human extinction. We can reject this social arrangement!

We don’t have to keep working for our exploiters. We could work instead for the betterment of all. The key is building workers’ power on the job.

The more collective control we have in our own workplace, the easier it is to connect with workers elsewhere. Together, we can stop the capitalist train and lay new tracks to take humanity in an entirely different direction.

It is futile to appeal to our oppressors to change what they are doing. We need to work together to change what WE are doing – letting our enemies drive the train.



  1. Once again on the spot, Susan.

  2. Very good analysis, mature and very much an eye opening, one more time.
    The left in general need to learn once and for all. Stop going after the carrot of the bosses!
    Set up a true local and national working class agenda, and start worrying about people as people and not as a power grab.
    When you put the time and the effort to learn what people need and what they can do the whole picture of activism changes.
    One day it will be our day. That day is not today, but we must keep going to keep the flame alive.

  3. All this makes sense to me. Thanks, Susan.


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