Exposing Imperialism at Universities and Rebuilding the Anti-War Movement
Anti-Imperialist demonstrations have been growing at major universities in the Boston Area. Students are increasingly disillusioned with their universities' ties to war profiteers, the U.S. military, and various despots around the world. As the U.S. and other imperialist powers race headlong toward World War III, there is an urgent need to revive the anti-war movement in this country. An important part of this effort is drawing more students into the anti-war movement, and exposing the key role that universities play in U.S. imperialism. Historically, student movements have been a key part of oppositon to U.S. wars.
MIT students and anti-war activists stormed the president of university’s office with a giant inflatable missile to protest MIT’s role in U.S. imperialism.
In early 2019, students and community members in the Boston area organized a series of protests to expose the role played by universities and war profiteers in the war in Yemen and U.S. imperialism more broadly. Corporations like Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others play a direct role in U.S. imperialism by selling weapons both to the U.S. military and to its allies like Israel, Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Egypt, India, and many other countries. In their genocidal war in Yemen, the Saudi-UAE coalition use large amounts of weaponry made by American war profiteers. The successful protests against Raytheon and other war profiteers at Northeastern, MIT, Tufts, and Boston University demonstrated the significant potential of anti-imperialist student organizing in the Boston area and around the country. There are signs of a revival of the anti-war movement, and revolutionaries should support such efforts while also promoting anti-imperialist leadership and principles. It is also important to critically evaluate the emerging leadership’s politics to ensure the anti-war movement is not hijacked by reactionaries, social-democrats, and liberal reformists as it has been in the past.
The United States is presently the world’s most powerful empire, maintaining a global network of over 800 military bases abroad and exerting neocolonial domination over a number of “Third World” countries. The U.S. has bases in some other imperialist, “First World” countries as well, such as Germany and Japan, as the ruling classes’ of these countries have largely similar (but not completely the same) interests. The majority of U.S. overseas bases are in poor countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
These bases work to protect the business dealings of big American corporations and make sure that local regimes are friendly to U.S. capitalist interests. In these “Third World” countries, American corporations extract billions of dollars in profits from the labor of the people there. These corporations also work hand-in-glove with the CIA and State Department to sponsor everything from soft-coups to all-out war when the people rebel or when local despots trying to seize power look to rival imperialist powers for sponsorship.
At career fairs war profiteers like Raytheon try to convince students to work for blood money. These career fairs make it seem as if there is no alternative.
The U.S. spreads its military over the world to protect these corporate and political interests. Yemen is currently the most brutal example of the logic of imperialism. In Yemen, the U.S. sponsors, funds, and assists Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in their efforts to bomb, blockade, and occupy the country in retribution for the Yemeni people’s 2011 revolution against the pro-American dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh. Saleh amassed over $60 billion through corruption during his 33 year-long rule by opening up the country to plunder by imperialist powers like the United States and France, as well as regional powers like Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Despite the country’s rich oil reserves and despite the existence Yemen’s port cities, which are key to the global oil trade, this exploitation by foreign powers combined with the brutal and decadent corruption of Saleh and the country’s ruling elite made Yemen the poorest country in the Middle East.
After Saleh was removed from power during the 2011 Arab Spring, his Vice President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi took over. Hadi ran the country in much of the same fashion, and people’s resistance to his rule continued. After Hadi attempted to implement a massive price hike for fuel in exchange for a loan from the International Monetary Fund, he too was forced from power through massive street protests led by the Yemeni people. However, this mass movement allowed the Houthis—an insurgent group aligned with Iran—to seize control of a significant portion of the country in a coup.
This was a major threat to the interests of both the ruling classes of the U.S. and Saudi Arabia. So, with the support of the U.S. and other powers like Britain and France, the Saudis and UAE formed a military coalition to remove the Houthis from power, restore the corrupt government of Hadi, and firmly crush any resistance of the Yemeni people to foreign occupation. This war—now in its fourth year—has pushed nearly two-thirds of Yemen’s population to the brink of famine and starvation.
On February 15, 2003, around 500,000 people gathered in New York City to protest against the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Around 10 million people protested together around the world that day.
Over 1 million people in Yemen are suffering from a massive cholera outbreak, and according to UNICEF, as of November 2017, 130 children were dying of starvation every day. The death rate since hasn’t been verified, but the conditions of famine and starvation continue to drastically worsen. While such statistics are likely underestimates, it’s been confirmed that at least 56,000 civilians have been killed by airstrikes.
The level of destruction caused in Yemen will not be known until after the war is over. The level of outrage at U.S. support for this war has even led to bills against it being passed in the U.S. Congress, only to be vetoed by Trump. Meanwhile, the weapons manufacturers like Raytheon handsomely profit from the sale of weapons to the Saudi-UAE coalition, who routinely target civilians in markets, schools, hospitals, weddings and funerals, while also bombing farms, water treatment plants, and other infrastructure. This genocidal strategy is supported by the U.S. and is similar to strategies employed to secure the profits of the U.S. monopoly capitalist class in Iraq, Afghanistan, and numerous other countries.
Following the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, the anti-war movement was quite strong and well organized, even with its many shortcomings. The news of massacres in Fallujah and Haditha, the exposure of the torture programs at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, and the apparent endlessness of the wars drew hundreds of thousands, even millions, of people into the streets. But the movement was led into a dead-end, as its leadership saw electing Barack Obama as the answer. Obama promised to end the war in Iraq and bring troops home, and many believed he would. However, with his election, the U.S. anti-war movement died down as people grew complacent and trusted this politician to end the wars. Obama did not end U.S. imperialist wars. Iraq continues to be a victim to U.S. aggression and the occupation of Afghanistan is now over 18 years old, the longest single war in U.S. history.
In fact, Obama oversaw a significant surge in the so-called “War on Terror,” began a massive drone assassination program which regularly killed civilians and continues to this day, and initiated interventions in Syria, Libya, Yemen, Pakistan, and many other places. And now, after reaching a low-point under Obama, the anti-war movement in the U.S. is slowly starting to rise back up. While there is still a long way to go, this resurgence is encouraging and should be supported by revolutionaries.
U.S. imperialists are particularly concerned about growing Chinese investment and inroads into Africa.
U.S. support for the war in Yemen is not just about crushing the resistance of the Yemeni people. It is also rooted in the underlying competition with other imperialist countries like China to divide up the world’s territories, resources, markets, and labor for the profits of their respective ruling classes. In the case of Yemen, the U.S. and its allies are particularly worried about growing Iranian influence in the region and Chinese influence around the world and in Africa. China has made significant inroads in countries such as the Philippines, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Nigeria, and Pakistan with its “One Belt One Road” initiative. The One Belt One Road initiative is the Chinese ruling class’s plan to grow its global influence and to eventually overtake the U.S. as the dominant global empire. In order to do so, China has set up a series of industrial, agricultural, and infrastructure projects in dozens of countries, which these countries often finance with high-interest loans from China which come with various strings attached.
These loans and other agreements with China are similar to those used by the U.S. and other powers to trap the people of these countries in economic dependency and facilitate the plunder of these country’s labor and resources by foreign capitalists. For example, Nigeria is one of the largest recipients of Chinese aid and loans in Africa, with some estimates showing Chinese investment and construction contracts totaling over $21 billion between 2016-2018. While these loans are allegedly ear-marked for infrastructure (railroads, industrial parks, factories, etc.) they have very little benefit to the people of the countries that take them.
These projects are similar to Britain’s railroads in former colonies such as India and Kenya, where the British built large railway systems to easily transport raw materials and commodity goods out of India to be sold in Britain. The railways also helped to move soldiers throughout the colonies to “pacify” resistance to colonialism and were key to developing systems of resource extraction. During the old colonial period, the British relied heavily on colonial slave labor to build the railways and work in the mines. The railroads in Africa currently financed by China function in a similar fashion. They facilitate the movement of goods, labor, and troops across these countries in manners which suit the interests of the Chinese elite, and not the people of these countries.
Students at California Polytechnic State University protest against Raytheon and the U.S. war machine at a campus career fair.
The competition between the U.S. and China has grown increasingly hostile in recent years. Just since the beginning of this 2019, the U.S. has sailed warships through the Strait of Taiwan on a monthly basis as a clear show of force. As the U.S. schemes and plots to remain the strongest imperialist power—including by preparing for a nuclear world war—a powerful and organized anti-war movement in the U.S. is desperately needed. The recent protests at Boston-area universities show that principled and serious political work can lead to a revival of the anti-war movement. While these protests were first steps, they represent a big advance in renewing the movement.
These protests in the Boston-area are not the only recent protests against war profiteers. In fact, anti-war protests are on the rise around the country, and those in Boston were inspired by similar efforts around the country. In April 2018, students at California Polytechnic State University protested the relationship between Raytheon and the university at a career fair. They were met with warning letters citing a “Time, Place, and Manner” policy regarding campus demonstrations and threatening formal disciplinary action if the students staged another protest inside a career fair. A petition of more than 3,600 signatures decrying the university’s response prompted the Office of Student Rights and Responsibility to formally retract the statement that the protests violated university policy. Inspired by these actions against Raytheon, Boston-area students came together with local anti-war activists and revolutionaries to expose how universities in the area serve imperialism and to disrupt their attempts to recruit students into the war machine.
The protests targeted Raytheon in particular. Raytheon is responsible for massacres of people all around the planet, yet it presents itself as a “diverse” and “fun” company, where engineers can “solve complex problems.” It promotes U.S. chauvinism and peddles the bold-faced lies that the U.S. military is a force for good, and that the precision of their bombs ensure only the “bad guys” are killed. Of course, in imperialist and genocidal wars like the one raging on in Yemen, the “bad guys” who are being bombed are none other than civilians and those protesting against the war!
Anti-war activists and BU students exposed how the university welcomes war profiteers to campus with open arms.
At Northeastern and MIT, protests spooked Raytheon recruiters and campus security. At both universities, protesters were asked to move to the sidewalk. At MIT, activists refused to move and faced a livid university bureaucrat who had to be restrained by a campus police officer. The typical calm and order of career fairs was broken.
At the Boston University (BU) protest, activists took an even more militant approach by conducting a loud, visible, and multi-faceted protest at the College of Engineering’s Career Fair. They stormed Raytheon’s booth while wearing printed images of the devastation in Yemen, including drone strikes, bombs exploding and children starving, with the text, “Brought to you by Raytheon” superimposed.
The activists filmed the protest and handed out fliers to other students, while one activist loudly repeated disturbing statistics on the war in Yemen and highlighted Raytheon’s role in creating such a catastrophe. Following the disruption at BU, students founded an anti-imperialist group dedicated to further exposing the university’s connection to and facilitation of war profiteering and imperialist war.
As expected, Raytheon employees and BU administrators, startled and nervous at the sudden burst of student rebellion, harassed the activists, repeatedly requesting that they “discuss this outside.” After several minutes of protesting loudly, the activists decided to leave after a Raytheon employee began to film them. The activists joined a group of other students and anti-war protesters outside of the venue to continue demonstrating against the war profiteers.
At each university, students and activists voiced demands to end university partnerships with war profiteering companies like Raytheon, as well as with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, for their role in the genocide in Yemen. Questions of divestment have risen to prominence in the past year. In particular, following the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in October 2018, mainstream media outlets ran articles on the links between Harvard and MIT and Saudi Arabia. In response to the outrage at these links, MIT issued a symbolic report and “invited the community to comment” on its recommendations to continue all financial and academic relations with Saudi donors and companies.
Of course, this was a largely symbolic gesture, but it reflects the university’s growing concern about public outrage over its support for Saudi Arabia and the war in Yemen. These developments are part of a growing movement to push universities to divest from Saudi Arabia and represent an opening for revolutionaries to help expose the crimes of the Saudi-UAE-U.S. genocidal war in Yemen.
Following the local career fair protests, students at MIT and community members organized to protest the university’s founding of the College of Computing. The opening of the College was celebrated from February 26th to the 28th and claimed to focus on the theme of “ethics” and its importance to developing Artificial Intelligence technologies. The speakers for the event included war criminal Henry Kissinger, CEO of the largest private equity firm in the U.S. Stephen Schwarzman, and political commentator Thomas Friedman, a leading contributor to the whitewashing of Saudi crown-prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s image. Over 200 people participated in the protest on February 28th and this was followed by the founding of MIT’s own anti-war student organization, showcasing the potential of the anti-imperialist movement at universities.
With political momentum picking up in Boston and other cities around the country, the anti-war movement is due for a resurgence. The wave of resistance previously seen in opposition to the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan is emerging once again to oppose the war in Yemen and challenge the war profiteering of arms dealers like Raytheon. With the increasing scale of humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen—and the direct role of the U.S. in creating it—such a movement is needed now more than ever. However, if a new anti-war movement is to be effective at applying political pressure on the war-profiteers and gain momentum, it must continue to expand nationwide and remain committed to opposing war and imperialism.
Such an anti-war movement must remain true to the core revolutionary principles of anti-imperialist organizing and must not be swayed by liberal politicians who make empty promises of ending wars while continuing to perpetuate the violence of U.S. imperialism. The reality is that the ruling class in this country relies on war and imperialist plunder to maintain its wealth and rule, and the politicians of both parties are in their pocket, even if they criticize aspects of war policy.
For example, prior to his election, Obama criticized the occupation of Iraq as a “dumb” war which “bogged down” the U.S. military. Even Donald Trump criticized the Iraq War as a “mistake.” In essence, these criticisms only amount to a call to make the military a “smarter” and a more efficient machine for slaughter and subjugation. For an anti-war movement to truly address the root of U.S. wars and imperialism, this paper-thin apologia for imperialism must be torn down and exposed for what it is—an outright lie and justification to continue pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into the military budget, dollars which are stolen out of the pockets of workers and the people of this country.
The movement must continue to replicate its successes and learn from the past as it gains wider attention and attracts new membership throughout the country, forming networks to gain a foothold in other major cities across the nation. Only through revolutionary ideals, leadership, organizing, and goals can such a strong, united front composed of the people be truly capable of standing in opposition to imperialism and war profiteers.
While the anti-war movement in this country is relatively small at present, we have seen how seizing on key openings can turn small group into a dozen people, a dozen into a hundred, and so on. By connecting the struggle against imperialism to the struggles of working people in this country and exposing the links between institutions and imperialist agendas, a powerful anti-imperialist movement in the United States can reemerge.