India and Pakistan: capitalism's lethal folly

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Introduction: Capitalism has no future to offer

Since the events of 11th September, the war in Afghanistan, and the renewed massacres in the Middle East, two more alarming events have come to the forefront of the world situation: the threat of war between India and Pakistan, who have been fighting for control of Kashmir ever since their creation and who now are armed with nuclear weapons, and the electoral success of far-right parties in Western Europe, which has provided the bourgeoisie with the opportunity to resurrect the fascist bogey and build up enormous campaigns in favour of "democracy".

On the face of it, these two widely separated and geo-politically totally distinct events have nothing in common. To understand their shared root causes, we must avoid taking a fragmented, photographic view of the world and analysing each event separately, in itself. Only marxism's global, historical and dialectical approach is capable of drawing together these two different expressions of capitalism's mechanisms to give them unity and coherence, integrating both into a common framework.

The threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan on the one hand, and the rise of the far right on the other, are both part of the same reality. They are both expressions of the impasse that the capitalist mode of production has reached. They demonstrate that capitalism has no future to offer humanity, and, in different forms, they illustrate the present phase of capitalism's decomposition: a social rot that menaces society's very existence. This decomposition is the result of a historic process where neither of society's antagonistic classes - the bourgeoisie and the proletariat - has been able to impose its own response to capitalism's insoluble crisis. The bourgeoisie has been unable to drag humanity into a third world war because the proletariat of the central countries has not been prepared to sacrifice its own interests on the altar of the national interest. But neither has the proletariat been capable of asserting its own revolutionary perspective, and imposing itself as the only social force able to offer an alternative to the dead end of the capitalist economy. While they have been able to prevent the outbreak of World War III, the workers' struggles have thus failed to halt the bloody madness of capitalism. Witness the murderous chaos spreading day by day through the system's periphery, which has accelerated ever since the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The endless escalation of war in the Middle East, and now the menace of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, reveal clearly the apocalyptic future that capitalism offers us.

The proletariat in the great "democratic" countries has, moreover, suffered the full weight of the most spectacular expression of capitalism's decomposition: the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The bourgeoisie's campaigns on the so-called "failure of communism" have deeply affected the proletariat's class identity, its confidence in itself and in its own revolutionary perspective. Their weight has been the main obstacle to the proletariat's struggle, and to its asserting itself as the only force capable of offering humanity a future. In the absence of massive workers' struggles in the Western countries, able to offer a perspective for society, the rot of capitalism has found expression in the development of the most reactionary ideologies, which have encouraged the rise of the far right. Whereas in the 1930s, the rise of fascism and Nazism was part of capitalism's march towards world war, today the far right parties' programmes are completely aberrant, including from the standpoint of the ruling class.

Given the gravity of the present situation, it is up to revolutionaries to contribute to the proletariat's awareness of the responsibilities it bears. Only the development of the class struggle in the most industrialised countries can open a revolutionary perspective of the overthrow of capitalism. Only the world proletarian revolution can put an end forever to the blind frenzy of military barbarism, to xenophobia and to racial hatred.

The threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan

Since May, the threat of nuclear war has loomed over India and Pakistan. After the attack on the Indian Parliament (13th December 2001), relations between the two countries deteriorated sharply. The attack in Jammu, in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir (May 2002), attributed to Islamic terrorists, was the immediate cause of the recent confrontations in Kashmir.

This conflict between the two countries, which has so far remained limited to what the media call "artillery duels" at the expense of a terrified civilian population, is not the first, and in particular not the first over Kashmir where previous fighting has already claimed hundreds of thousands of victims. However, the threat of nuclear conflict has never before been so serious. In an inferior position - Pakistan has 700,000 troops to India's 1.2 million, 25 nuclear missiles with a lesser range than India's 60 - "Pakistan has already made it clear that, in the face of a superior enemy, it would be prepared to initiate a nuclear confrontation" (The Guardian 23/5/02). On its side, India is deliberately pushing for a military confrontation with Pakistan. Pakistan aims to destabilise the situation in Kashmir in order to draw the latter into its camp thanks to the guerrilla actions of its infiltrated groups, while India has every interest in putting a stop to this process by direct confrontation.

The possibility of a catastrophe which would cause millions of deaths has indeed alarmed the ruling classes of the developed countries, especially the Americans and the British.1 After the failure of the conference of Central Asian countries in Kazakhstan, called this time by Putin at the behest of the White House, the US has had to throw its full weight into the balance to lower the tension, with the despatch of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to Karachi and Bush's personal intervention towards the Indian and Pakistani leaders. But as the Western leaders themselves recognise, if the danger of war has been averted for the moment, none of the issues have been resolved.

India and Pakistan: an insoluble rivalry

When, in 1947, the British Raj in India was split to create the independent states of India and Pakistan2 (along with Sri Lanka and Myanmar, formerly Burma), the British bourgeoisie and its American ally knew very well that they were creating a congenital rivalry. Following the old principle of "divide and rule", the aim of this artificial separation was to weaken, on both eastern and western borders, the huge new state of India, whose leader Nehru had already declared its "neutrality" with regard to the great powers in the hope of transforming the country into a regional super-power. In the immediate post-war period, as the contours of the Eastern and Western blocs were already hardening, a ferociously anti-Russian Britain, and a US already intent on imposing its hegemony world wide, saw a real danger that India would go over to the Soviet camp.

During the "democratic" formation of the Indian "nation" under the leadership of its new Pandit Nehru, India annexed outright three regions which had been expected to fall under Pakistani control, one of them being the state of Jammu and Kashmir, thus sowing the first seeds of a permanent discord over territorial claims. The entire history of the two countries has thus been marked by repeated military confrontations, with India generally on the offensive as New Delhi tried to gain control of what it considered to be its "natural frontiers". This was as true of the 1965 war in Kashmir, and of the 1971 war with Pakistan (which transformed East Pakistan into the separate state of Bangladesh), as it is true of the conflict today.

But the interest of the Indian bourgeoisie does not lie solely in the desire for expansion inherent in any imperialism. It lies in the Indian state's need to be recognised as a regional power to be reckoned with, not just in the eyes of the "international community" of the great powers, but also vis-à-vis its main rival, China. Behind India's aggressive stance towards Pakistan lies its endemic rivalry with China for dominance in South-East Asia.

In 1962, Beijing's victory in the Sino-Indian war revealed to the Indian bourgeoisie both that China was its principal enemy, and its own military weakness. Ever since, India has tried to ensure its revenge against China. The 1971 war in East Pakistan was already a part of the imperialist rivalry between the two countries, and it is obvious that a conflict today between India and Pakistan, which would leave Pakistan exhausted if not wiped from the map altogether, could only be at the expense of China, which has always done its utmost to support Islamabad. It is no accident that when the USSR made nuclear weapons available to India as a guarantee of the "co-operation pact" between the two countries, it was China, with America's blessing, which did the same for Pakistan.

The hypocrisy of the Great Powers

There is no doubt that the Great Powers, with the US at their head, are indeed extremely alarmed at the possibility of nuclear conflict between India and Pakistan, though not for any humanitarian reasons, far from it. They are concerned above all to prevent the development of a new escalation in the "every man for himself" which has dominated the planet since the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the disappearance of its Western rival. During the Cold War that followed World War II, inter-state rivalries were controlled by the discipline imposed by the two blocs. Even a country like India, which tried to go it alone and benefit from Eastern military power and Western technology, did not have its hands free to impose its domination over South-East Asia. Today, states give free rein to their ambitions. Even in 1990, barely one year after the collapse of the Russian bloc, American pressure was necessary to defuse the threat of a nuclear confrontation between India and Pakistan.

An indication of the intensity of the antagonism between these two second-rate powers can be found in the difficulty that the US is having in imposing its authority. Only a few months after the US made a massive display of force in Afghanistan to compel other nation-states to line up behind it, two of its allies in this war are at each other's throats. Disaster is threatened in yet another region where the US thought it could impose its order through military means.

Since the end of the Cold War, the US has launched massive military operations to show the world that it will not accept any challenge to its leadership. After the 1991 Gulf War, instead of the New World Order came the explosion of the Balkans, accompanied by all the horror of war and appalling poverty. In 1999 after the US' show of force against Serbia the European imperialist powers became increasingly open in their opposition to US policies such as Bush's all-out acceleration of "Son of Star Wars". It was in response to this challenge that the US laid waste to Afghanistan, using the convenient justification of 11th September.

Whether it be Great Powers like Germany, France or Britain, or regional powers such as Russia, China, India or Pakistan, all are being pushed to tear each other apart in ever more destructive struggles. The present conflict between India and Pakistan, like that in Afghanistan, is a flagrant demonstration.

In this situation of general chaos and "every man for himself", provoked first and foremost by the growing tensions between the Great Powers themselves, the latter's hypocrisy has been striking. Expressing the alarm of the "civilised" ruling classes at the prospect of nuclear war, their media point the finger of blame at the irresponsibility of the Pakistani president Musharaf and the Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee, considering that neither "appeared to be taking into account the sheer scale of the disaster that would follow if nuclear weapons were used, and that they seemed incapable of visualising the disaster that would overwhelm their countries as a result" (The Times, 1/6/2).

This is really the pot calling the kettle black! What of the "responsibility" of the Great Powers? They are indeed responsible: responsible for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II; responsible for the mind-boggling proliferation of nuclear weapons during the Cold War; responsible for this accumulation under the pretext that "dissuasion" and the "balance of terror" (sic!) were the best guarantee for world peace. And it is still the developed countries which hold the most enormous stocks of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons!

The struggle against terrorism: a pretext and a lie

For most of the media, this situation is the fruit of "religious fundamentalism". For the Indian ruling class, those responsible for the terrorist attacks in Kashmir and against the Indian parliament are the Islamic fundamentalists supported by Pakistan. On the other side, the Pakistani ruling class denounces the nationalist excesses of India's ruling Hindu fundamentalist BJP, and especially its repression of the Kashmiri "freedom fighters".

The BJP in India uses terrorist attacks in Kashmir and the rest of India as justification for its military threats against Pakistan. Meanwhile the BJP has been implicated in the inter-communal massacres in the state of Gujarat where hundreds of Hindu fundamentalists were incinerated in a train by Islamic militants and in reply thousands of Muslims were slaughtered. Meanwhile the Pakistani bourgeoisie has not only been trying to destabilise India through its backing for the Kashmiri struggle against Indian rule, they also claim that India is backing terrorist groups in Pakistan.

By constantly stirring up the most virulent nationalism, the exploiters in each camp are drawing large fractions of the population into support for their imperialist ambitions. The use of such nationalisms in conjunction with religious prejudice and racial stereotyping is not new or confined to the peripheries of capitalism. The bourgeoisies of the main capitalist countries have developed this into a fine art. In the First World War both sides portrayed the other as "evil" and a "threat to civilisation". In the 1930s both the Nazis and Stalinists used anti-semitism and nationalism to mobilise their populations. The "civilised" Allies did everything to whip up anti-German and anti-Japanese hysteria, which culminated in the cynical use of the Holocaust to justify the bombardment and massacre of an "inhuman" enemy. During the Cold War similar hatreds were cultivated by both blocs to portray the enemy as power-hungry maniacs. And since 1989 the "humanitarian" leaders of the great powers have manipulated and stirred up the growth of the ethnic cleansing, religious and racial hatred that has penetrated so many areas of the planet in a cycle of wars and massacres.

A serious threat to the working class and to all humanity

It is because the working class poses a threat that capitalism needs to use all the lies in its armoury to hide the real nature of its imperialist wars, and to turn the workers away from the path of their own class struggle. At the local level in South-East Asia, the working class has not proved itself sufficiently combative to stop a war. Internationally, the working class finds itself impotent in the face of a capitalism that is tearing itself apart, threatening us with massive death and destruction over a whole region of the planet.

Nonetheless, the only historic force capable of stopping the destructive juggernaut of decomposing capitalism remains the international proletariat, above all in the heartlands of capitalism. Through the development of its struggles to defend its own interests it could show the workers on the sub-continent that there is a class alternative to nationalism, religious and ethnic hatred. This places a huge responsibility on the working class of the metropolitan heartlands. It has to see that while it must defend its interests as a class, it also has the future of humanity in its hands.

Confronted with the madness of decadent capitalism, the international proletariat must return to its old slogan: "Workers of all countries, unite!" Capitalism can only lead us to war, barbarism, and the complete destruction of humanity. The struggle of the working class is the key to the only possible alternative: world wide communist revolution.

ZG (18/06/2002)

1 It should nonetheless be noted that the US and British bourgeoisies exaggerated the real danger of nuclear war between India and Pakistan the better to justify their pressure on both nations by passing themselves off as the most "pacifist" countries, and to freeze out rivals, such as France, in the settlement of the conflict.

2 Pakistan was originally made up of West and East Pakistan, the two parts of the same country being separated by several thousand miles of Indian territory: in other words, a state that was non-viable right from the start.