Beslan, Iraq: a new step in the decomposition of capitalism

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The latest developments on the international scene have plunged the world still further into “an endless fear”, an insane succession of terrorist attacks, bombings, kidnappings, hostage taking and murder. In Iraq, this has reached levels that could have barely been imagined only a few years ago. The savage killings in the Russian town of Beslan in North Ossetia bear witness to the fact that the rest of the world, especially its most strategic areas, will not be spared either. The situation is so bad that talk of chaos is no longer the domain of a few “catastrophists”, but has become an ever more present subject in the media and the political world.

The Beslan massacre reveals the depths of the barbarity into which capitalist society is sinking: children taken as hostages and tortured[1] by Chechen terrorists whose contempt for their fellow human beings is almost beyond belief. The terrorists' behaviour is an expression of hatred, no longer for institutions or governments, but for other human beings whose misfortune it is to belong to a different nationalist clique. On the opposite side, the Russian state has not hesitated for an instant to massacre civilians in order to defend its authority. The result is only too obvious: the destabilisation of the whole Russian Caucasus, unleashing a whole series of ethnic or religious confrontations, the organisation in the different republics of gangs whose proclaimed purpose is the persecution of rival ethnic groups.

Iraq is riven by a war of each against all. The media and certain leftist groups talk of “national resistance”.[2] It is nothing of the kind. There is no such thing as a “national liberation struggle against the American invader”. There is, on the contrary, a flourishing of all kinds of groups based on clan, local, or tribal loyalties, on ethnic or religious group, who are fighting both amongst each other and against the occupying forces. Each religious group is divided into opposing cliques. The recent attacks against journalists, or against people from countries not even involved in the war, highlight still further the blind and anarchic nature of this war. In total confusion, the whole population is taken hostage, deprived of drinking water and electricity, victim of attacks from all sides, subjected to a terror still more cruel than in the days of Saddam.

This situation cannot be understood on the basis of its immediate, local, partial aspects. Only a world wide, historical framework allows us to grasp its roots and its perspectives. We have regularly contributed to this framework, and we will simply retrace some of its main elements here.

Terrorism becomes a crucial factor in the evolution of imperialism

Immediately after the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989, and against the grandiose promises of a “new world order” made by George Bush senior, we declared that the perspective was, on the contrary, that of a new world disorder. In an orientation text published in 1990,[3] we predicted that the end of the bloc system would “open the door to a still more savage, aberrant, and chaotic form of imperialism”, characterised by “more violent and more frequent conflicts, especially in areas where the proletariat is weak”. This tendency has been constantly confirmed during the last 15 years. It is not simply the mechanical result of the disappearance of the bloc system, but one of the results of capitalism's entry into its terminal phase of decadence, characterised by a generalised decomposition.[4] In terms of military activity, chaos is the most obvious mark of decomposition. It is expressed, on the one hand by a proliferation of conflicts where imperialist tensions have broken out into open warfare,[5] and by the proliferation of multiple, contradictory imperialist interests within each zone of conflict; and on the other hand, by the growing instability of imperialist alliances, making it impossible for the great powers to stabilise the situation, even temporarily.[6]

On the basis of this analytical framework, we declared at the time of the first Gulf War that “only military force will be able to maintain a minimum of stability in a world threatened by rising chaos” (ibid) and that, in this world “of murderous disorder, the American cop will try to maintain a minimum of order by the increasingly massive use of its military power” (ibid).

However, in today's conditions, the use of military force can only spread the conflicts and make them still more difficult to control. We can see this in the USA's failure in the Iraq war, where it is caught in a quagmire with no way out. The difficulties confronting the world's major power damage its authority as the world's policeman, and encourage the activities of all the rival imperialisms, including even those – like Al-Qaeda and some of the Iraqi and Chechen gangs – who do not even aspire to control a state. The chessboard of international relations has become an enormous scrum of merciless conflicts, turning into a nightmare the lives of vast sections of the world's population.

This chaos, and the generalised disintegration of social relations, explain the extension of terrorism today as a weapon in the wars between imperialist rivals.[7] During the 1980s, terrorism was the “poor man's H-bomb”, used by weaker states (Syria, Iran, Libya, etc.) to gain a hearing in the imperialist arena. During the 1990s, it became a weapon in the imperialist competition between the great powers, with their secret services using – more or less directly – the activity of gangs like the IRA or ETA. With the bomb attacks of 1999 in Russia, and the attack on the Twin Towers, we see that “the great powers use blind terrorist attacks by kamikaze fanatics, aimed directly at the civilian population, to justify the unleashing of imperialist barbarism” (ibid). Increasingly, the tendency today is for some of these gangs, notably the various Chechens and Islamists, to declare their independence of their previous patrons, to play their own cards at the imperialist poker game.[8]

This is the most striking expression of the chaos reigning in the relations between imperialisms, and of the inability of the great powers, playing sorcerer's apprentice, to control them. Nonetheless, however megalomaniac their pretensions, these little warlords cannot play an independent role, since they are infiltrated by the secret services of other powers who are each trying to use them for their own ends, which only adds to the general and unprecedented confusion at the level of imperialist rivalries.

The Middle East, epicentre of world chaos

The Middle East, bounded in the east by Afghanistan, in the north by Turkey and the Caucasus, in the south by Saudi Arabia, and in the west by the eastern coast of the Mediterranean (Syria, Palestine, etc.), lies at the strategic heart of the planet, both because it contains the world's largest energy reserves, and because it lies at the crossroads of the sea and land routes of imperialist expansion.

The states in this region are under pressure to break up in a civil war between different bourgeois fractions. The epicentre is Iraq, whose shock waves are spreading in all directions: constant terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, which are only the tip of the iceberg in a hidden struggle for power; open war between Israel and Palestine; warlordism in Afghanistan; the destabilisation of the Russian Caucasus; terrorist attacks and armed conflict in Pakistan; bomb attacks in Turkey; a critical situation in Iran and Syria.[9] We have already noted this fact in the editorial of this Review (n°117), concerning the situation in Iraq, which continues to degenerate as we write: “the war in Iraq (...) is entering a new phase, that of a kind of international civil war which is spreading throughout the Middle East. In Iraq itself, there are increasingly frequent confrontations not only between the “resistance” and US forces, but also between the “Saddamites”, Wahhabite Sunnis (the sect which gave birth to Bin Laden), Shiites, Kurds, and even Turkmen. In Pakistan, a discreet civil war is in progress, with the bomb attack against a Shiite procession (40 dead), and a large-scale military operation in progress as we write in Waziristan. In Afghanistan, all the reassuring declarations about the consolidation of the Kabul government cannot hide the fact that the latter’s writ runs no farther than Kabul itself, and that only with difficulty, while civil war continues to rage throughout the southern part of the country. In Israel and Palestine, the situation is going from bad to worse, as Hamas has started to use young children to carry its bombs”.

We have seen the same phenomenon in many African countries (Congo, Somalia, Liberia, etc.), which have foundered in interminable civil wars, but that this should be happening at the world's strategic heart has immensely serious repercussions, which will dominate the world situation.

At the strategic level, German imperialism's “natural” needs for expansion into Asia are thus partly blocked. British interests are also threatened by the destabilisation in the Middle East. This chaos is like a shrapnel bomb whose blast is affecting Russia (as we can see in the Caucasus, the tragedy of Beslan being only one example among many), Turkey, India, and Pakistan, and which may end up affecting regions still further away: Eastern Europe, China, North Africa. The Middle East is also the planet's main energy reserve, and its destabilisation cannot help having serious consequences for the economic situation in the industrialised states, as a result of the rise in oil prices. But the most striking factor in the present situation, is the inability of the great powers to put even a temporary stop to the process of destabilisation. This is true for the USA, whose “war against terror” has shown itself to be a powerful means for spreading terrorism and military conflict. On the other side, the honeyed appeals of the rival powers (France, Germany) for establishment of a “multilateral” world order based on “international law” and “international co-operation” are mystifications designed to sow confusions in the heads of the workers concerning the bourgeoisie's real intentions. These banana skins slipped under the feet of the American mammoth are also the only real means of opposition that these countries possess, given their utter military inferiority.

The United States, as we have seen, is confronted with a “black hole” which not only threatens to swallow up a large proportion of its troops,[10] but also threatens its authority and prestige.

World capitalism is up against an insurmountable contradiction: the brute force of militarism, applied by the world's greatest power, is the only way to contain the spread of chaos, while its continued use will not only be unable to stop the latter, but is becoming a major agent in its spread.

Only the proletariat can offer another way out

Although the US Army is by far the most powerful force on the planet, demoralisation is setting in among the troops and replacements are more and more limited. The world is not in the same situation as it was when World War II broke out, and when the proletariat – defeated in the first revolutionary wave and enrolled under the flags of nationalism – provided enormous reserves of cannon fodder.

Today, the proletariat is not beaten and even the world's most powerful state does not have the room for manoeuvre to enlist millions of workers. The balance of class forces is thus a key element in society's evolution.

Only the proletariat can put an end to capitalism's decline into barbarism. It is the only force able to offer humanity another perspective. The development of revolutionary minorities around the world is the expression of a subterranean maturation of class-consciousness within the working class. They are the visible part of the proletariat's efforts to give a class response to the situation. The road is hard, and there is no shortage of obstacles in the way. And one of these obstacles is all the illusions in all the false “solutions” proposed by different factions of the bourgeoisie. Many workers mistrust Bush's shameless warmongering, and realise that the “war on terror” has done no more than encourage war and terrorism. But they have greater difficulty in seeing through the pacifist mystifications put forward by Bush's rivals – Schröder, Chirac, Zapatero and Co. - and still more in seeing through the bourgeoisie's ardent supporters in defending these themes: the leftists and anti-globalists. We can have no illusions: all these factions of the bourgeoisie are cogs in the deadly machine that is driving all of society to the abyss.

The entire history of the last century confirms the analysis put forward by the first congress of the Communist International: “Human culture has been destroyed and humanity is threatened with complete annihilation (...) The old capitalist ‘order’ has ceased to function; its further existence is out of the question. The final outcome of the capitalist mode of production is chaos. This chaos can only be overcome by the productive and most numerous class - the working class. The proletariat has to establish real order - Communist order. It must break the rule of capital, make wars impossible, abolish the frontiers between states, transform the whole world into a community where all work for the common good and realise the freedom and brotherhood of peoples ”.[11]

If it is to raise itself to the level necessary for this titanic task, the proletariat must patiently and tenaciously develop its class solidarity. Capitalism in its death throes wants to accustom us to horror, to make us consider the barbarism for which it is responsible as somehow “normal”. The workers can only react with indignation against such cynicism, and with solidarity towards the victims of these endless wars and the massacres perpetrated by all the capitalist gangs. Disgust and the rejection of everything that decomposing capitalism imposes on society, solidarity among members of a class all of whose interests are common, are essential factors in the development of a consciousness that another perspective is possible, and that a united working class has the strength to impose it.

Mir, 26/09/2004

[1]There is no other term for keeping the children penned up for three days without food or water under the constant threat of death.

[2]The parasitic GCI even has the incredible gall to talk about “class struggle”!

[3]“Militarism and decomposition”, in International Review n°64.

[4]See the “Theses on decomposition” (International Review n°62), and also “The marxist roots of the concept of decomposition” in International Review n°117).

[5]According to UN statistics, there are currently 41 regional wars in progress around the world.

[6]A striking illustration is the impossibility of imposing a settlement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, whose only perspective is a continual worsening of the conflict.

[8]It is worth remembering that these warlords, during the 1980s, were the faithful servants of the great powers: Bin Laden worked for the Americans in Afghanistan, while Balayev, who was probably behind the carnage at Beslan, was previously an office in the Soviet army.

[9]Even Israel, the strongest state in the region, is not spared by the tendency, though in much attenuated form. The most radical right-wing factions are now calling for desertion from the police and the army in response to Sharon's plan to evacuate Gaza.

[10]The Army has fallen from 18 divisions in 1991 (710,000 soldiers) to 10 today (486,000) even as its commitments have expanded exponentially (...) The generals won't ask for many reinforcements because they know they don't exist. Just sustaining the current level of 135,000 troops in Iraq is proving almost impossible. Nine of the Army's divisions are either in Iraq and Afghanistan or just returning from there. The only additional one that can be dispatched is the 3rd Infantry Division, which left Iraq less than a year ago after spearheading the drive on Baghdad (...) We are also relying heavily on National Guard and reserve units that were never intended for such long-term deployments overseas. Overusing them could lead to a recruitment and retention crisis” (Los Angeles Times, 29[th] April 2004, published on the Council for Foreign Relations web site)


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