Democratic and humanitarian hypocrisy

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Tsunami, imperialist rivalries in Iraq, Lebanon, Ukraine, Palestine, Kyrghyzstan

If we were to identify a vice that is characteristic of each epoch of human history, it would certainly be the hypocrisy of the ruling class that would fit the bill in the case of capitalism. The great Mongol conqueror, Genghis Khan, amassed piles of skulls when he conquered towns that had not submitted to him. But he never claimed to do it for the good of their inhabitants. It took bourgeois capitalist democracy to teach us that war is "humanitarian" and that it is necessary to bomb civilian populations in order to bring… peace and freedom to these very populations.

The tsunami in December 2004 hit the coasts of the Indian Ocean when the last issue of this Review was already going to press. This meant that it was not possible for us to include a position statement on such an important event for the world today,[1] so we will do it in this issue. As early as 1902, a little more than 100 years ago, the great revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg denounced the hypocrisy of the great powers. She pointed out that, although they offered their "humanitarian aid" to the populations that were victims of the volcanic disaster on Martinique, they had never hesitated for a moment to massacre the same populations in order to spread their domination throughout the world.[2] Today, when we see the reaction of the great powers to the disaster that occurred in South East Asia at the end of 2004, we have to conclude that things have not changed much since then. If anything, they have worsened.

We now know that the number of deaths directly caused by the tsunami is more than 300 000, on the whole people from the poorest populations, while hundreds of thousands have been left homeless. This hecatomb was by no means an "act of god". Obviously we cannot accuse capitalism of causing the quake that led to the huge tidal wave. On the other hand, we can lay at its door the utter negligence and irresponsibility of the governments in this area of the world and of their Western counter-parts, that led to this enormous human catastrophe.[3]

They all knew that this part of the globe is particularly prone to seismic quakes: "However local experts knew that a drama was about to take place. In December, Indonesian seismologists raised the question with a French expert, outside the official meeting of physicists in Jakarta. They were well aware of the danger of tsunamis because there are repeated quakes in the region" (Libération, 31/12/04).

Not only were the experts aware of the danger but the ex-director of the international centre for information on tsunamis in Hawaii, George Pararas-Carayannis, had even stated that a major quake had taken place two days before the disaster of 26th December.

"The Indian Ocean has basic infrastructures to measure and communicate seismic activity. No one should have been surprised, because a quake of the magnitude of 8.1 occurred on 24th December. The authorities should have been warned. But there is a lack, firstly of any political will on the part of the countries concerned, and also of any international co-ordination on the scale of that which exists in the Pacific" (Libération of 28/12/04).

No one should have been surprised, yet the disaster happened. It happened even though there was enough information available about the catastrophe beforehand to have made it possible to take action to prevent this carnage.

This is not negligence, this is a criminal attitude and it reveals the profound contempt that the ruling class has for the population and the proletariat, who are the main victims of the policies of the local bourgeois governments.

In fact, it is now clearly acknowledged officially that the warning was not given out of fear… that it would harm the tourist industry! In other words, tens of thousands of human beings were sacrificed in order to defend sordid economic and financial interests.

Such irresponsibility on the part of governments is a further illustration of the attitude of this class of sharks, that runs the life and productive activity of society. Bourgeois states are ready to sacrifice as many human lives as is necessary to preserve capitalist exploitation and profits.

The profound cynicism of the capitalist class, the disaster that the survival of this system of exploitation and death represents for humanity, is even clearer if we compare the cost of a system to detect tsunamis with the fabulous sums spent on armaments. The countries bordering on the Indian Ocean are considered to be "developing countries". Yet the sum of $20-30 million, considered necessary to set up a system of warning beacons in the area, is the equivalent of just one of the 16 Hawk-309 planes ordered from Britain by the Indonesian government in the 1990s. If we look at the defence budgets for India ($19 billion), Indonesia ($1.3 billion) and Sri Lanka ($540 million - this is the smallest and poorest of the three countries), the reality of the capitalist system becomes glaringly obvious. It is a system that does not hesitate to spend money in order to reap death but that is stingy in the extreme when it is a matter of protecting the life of the population.

Other victims are to be expected now that new quakes in the region have affected the Indonesian island of Nias. The large number of dead and injured is due to the material used for housing: concrete blocks that are much less resistant to earthquakes than wood, which is the traditional building material in the region. But concrete is cheap. Wood, however, is costly, all the more so in that exporting it to the developed countries is an important source of revenue for the capitalists, for organised crime and for the military in Indonesia. With this new disaster, the return of the Western media to the region, showing us all the good work done by the NGOs that are still there, also shows us the consequences of the grandiose declarations of governmental solidarity following the December 2004 quake.

Firstly, as far as the financial donations promised by the Western governments are concerned, the contrast between arms expenditure and the money devoted to aid operations, is still more glaring than in the case of the countries bordering on the Indian Ocean. At first, the United States promised $35 million in aid ("the amount we spend in Iraq each morning before breakfast", as the American senator, Patrick Leahy, said). Yet their proposed military budget for 2005 -2006 is $500 billion, excluding the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. And even though the sum promised in aid is pitiful, we have already had occasion to predict that the bourgeoisie will be rich in promises but mean in practice: "We should remember that the ‘international community’ of imperialist gangsters promised $100 million after the earthquake in Iran (December 2003), of which only $17 million has been paid. The same thing happened in Liberia: $1 billion promised, $70 million paid.”[4] The Asian Development Bank today announced that $4 billion of the money promised has not yet been transferred and, according to the BBC, "The Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Lakshman Kadirgamar, has [said] that his country has not yet received any of the money promised by governments". On Banda Aceh there is still no clean water for the population (ironically, the only ones to benefit from the efforts of the NGOs, which are largely inadequate, are the refugees in their camps…). In Sri Lanka, the refugees from the area around Trincomalee (to take just one example) are still living in tents and suffer from diarrhoea and chicken pox; 65% of their fishing fleet (on which a large part of the island's population depends) was destroyed by the tsunami and still has not been replaced.

The media, under orders of course, explain to us at great length the inevitable difficulties of a large-scale aid operation. It is very instructive to compare these "difficulties" assisting the poverty-stricken population (which brings no profit to capital), with the impressive logistic capacity of the American army during Desert Storm. During the six month build-up for the attack on Iraq, according to an article published by the Army Magazine,[5] the "22nd Support Command received more than 12,447 tracked vehicles, 102,697 wheeled vehicles, 1 billion gallons [3,7 billion litres] of fuel and 24 short [metric] tons of mail during this brief period. Innovations over previous wars included state-of-the-art roll-on-roll-off shipping, modern containerisation, an efficient single-fuel system and automated information management". So when they talk about the "logistic difficulties" of humanitarian operations, let's bear in mind what capitalism is capable of doing when it is a question of defending its imperialist interests.

Moreover, even the sums and the pitiful resources sent there, were not given free of charge: the bourgeoisie does not spend money unless it gets something in return. If the Western powers dispatched their helicopters, their aircraft carriers and their amphibious vehicles to the area, it is because they intended to benefit in terms of their imperialist influence there. As Condoleeza Rice said to the American Senate, when she was confirmed as Secretary of State:[6] "I do agree that the tsunami was a wonderful opportunity to show not just the US government, but the heart of the American people, and I think it has paid great dividends for us".[7] Equally, the Indian government's decision to refuse any Western aid was entirely motivated by its desire to "play in the big boys' playground" and to affirm itself as a regional imperialist power.

Democracy hides barbarism

The indecent discrepancy between what the bourgeoisie spends on disseminating death and the increasingly wretched living conditions of the vast majority of the world's population is telling. However if we remain at this level, we will not get any further than all those of good conscience who defend democracy, that is, the various NGOs.

All the great powers are themselves ardent defenders of democracy and the information they broadcast on TV does not hesitate to expound all the reasons why we can expect a better world, thanks to the irresistible spread of democracy. Following the elections in Afghanistan, the population voted for the first time in Iraq, and Bush Junior was able to welcome the admirable courage of these people, who braved a real risk of death in order to go to the polling stations and say "no" to terrorism. In the Ukraine, the "orange revolution" has followed the example of Georgia and has replaced a corrupt government, a Russian leftover, with the heroic Yushenko. In the Lebanon, young people mobilise to demand that light be thrown on the assassination of opposition leader Rafik Hariri and that Syrian troops leave the country. In Palestine, the elections gave a clear mandate to Mahmud Abbas to end terrorism and conclude a just peace with Israel. Finally, in Kirghizstan a "tulip revolution" has swept away the old president Akayev. So we are supposed to be in the midst of a real democratic unfolding of "people power", the bearer of the "new world order", promised us when the Berlin wall came down in 1989.

But once we scratch the surface, the perspective immediately becomes less rosy.

To start with, the elections in Iraq have only punctuated a power struggle between the different factions of the Iraqi bourgeoisie, which continued unabated with the subsequent negotiations between Shiites and Kurds over the division of power and the degree of autonomy to be given to the Kurdish party. For the moment they have managed to reach an agreement about certain government positions. But this is only by postponing the thorny question of Kirkuk, a rich oil town in northern Iraq, which is coveted both by the Sunnis and by the Kurds. Moreover it continues to be the scene of violent confrontations with the "resistance". We may well ask to what extent the Kurdish leaders take the Iraqi elections seriously given that, on the very same day, they organised an "opinion poll", the results of which showed that 95% of Kurds want an independent Kurdistan. "Self-determination is the natural right of our people and they have the right to express what they wish" according to Kurdish leader Barzani, and "when the moment comes, it will become a reality".[8] The Kurdish situation is pregnant with threats to the stability of the region because any attempt on their part to affirm their independence would be seen as an immediate danger by two neighbouring countries, in which there exist significant Kurdish minorities: Turkey and Iran.

The Iraqi elections have proved to be a media coup in favour of the United States that has, politically, considerably weakened the resistance of its powerful rivals in the region, France in particular. On the other hand, the Bush government is by no means pleased at the prospect of an Iraqi state dominated by the Shiites, allied to Iran and so indirectly to Syria and its Lebanese henchmen, the Hezbollah. The assassination of Rafik Hariri, a powerful Lebanese leader and businessman, must be seen in this context.

All of the Western press - in America and France above all - point the finger at Syria. However all commentators are agreed on two points. Firstly Hariri was by no means an opposition force (he had been prime minister under Syrian tutelage for ten years). Secondly, Syria is the last to benefit from the crime, as it has been obliged to announce the complete withdrawal of its troops for the 30th April.[9] By contrast, those who actually profit from the situation are, on the one hand Israel, as it weakens the influence of Hezbollah and, on the other hand the United States, which leapt at the chance to bring the Syrian regime into line. Does this mean that the "democratic revolution", that brought about this retreat, has, by some stretch of the imagination, won over a new zone to peace and prosperity? We beg leave to doubt this when we note that today's "opposition forces" (such as the Druze leader, Walid Jumblatt) are in fact none other than the warlords, the protagonists of the conflict that bathed the country in blood from 1975 to 1990. Several bombings have already been directed against the Christian areas of the Lebanon, while the Hezbollah (with 20,000 men in arms) holds massive demonstrations.

In the same way, the forced resignation of the president of Kirghizstan, Akayev, is no more than a prelude to more misery and instability. This country, one of the poorest in Central Asia, already hosts Russian and American military bases, and is coveted increasingly by China. Moreover, it is one of the main drug routes from Afghanistan to Europe. Given these conditions, the recent "democratic" outcome is no more than a moment in the proxy settling of scores between the great powers.

During the 20th century, imperialist rivalries have twice covered the planet in blood with the appalling butchery of the two world wars. Moreover, there were incessant wars after 1945 involving the two large imperialist blocs that emerged victorious from the Second World War up until the fall of the Russian bloc in 1989. At the end of each orgy of killing, the ruling class swears that this time really is the last; the 14-18 war was "the war to end war", the 1939-45 war was to open up a new period of reconstruction and freedom, guaranteed by the United Nations. The end of the Cold War in 1989 was to herald a "new world order" of peace and prosperity. In case the working class today begins questioning the benefits of this "new order" (of war and misery), 2004 and 2005 have, and will, see sumptuous celebrations of the triumphs of democracy (Normandy landings in June 1944). This also includes moving ceremonies commemorating the horrors of Nazism (liberation of the concentration camps). We suspect that the democratic and hypocritical bourgeoisie will make less palaver about the 20 million deaths in the Russian gulags, as it was itself allied with the USSR against Hitler. Likewise it will be more reticent about the 340,000 deaths in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, as the greatest democracy in the world used the weapon of Armageddon, the atomic bomb, for the only time in history, against a country that had already been defeated.[10]

This shows how little confidence we can have that this bourgeois class will give us the peace and prosperity they promise us with hand on heart. On the contrary: "Violated, dishonoured, wading in blood, dripping filth - there stands bourgeois society. This is it [in reality]. Not all spic and span and moral, with pretence to culture, philosophy, ethics, order, peace, and the rule of law - but the ravening beast, the witches' sabbath of anarchy, a plague to culture and humanity. Thus it reveals itself in its true, its naked form."[11] Against this macabre sabbath, only the proletariat can impose a real opposition able to end war, because it will put an end to war-mongering capitalism.

Only the working class can offer a solution

At the end of the Vietnam war, the American army was no longer fit for combat, The soldiers - mainly conscripts - refused repeatedly to go to the front and assassinated those officers who were "zealously inclined". This demoralisation was not the result of a military defeat but was due to the fact that, unlike in the 39-45 war, the American bourgeoisie had not managed to get the working class to join it in its imperialist aims.

Before the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon's pro-war factions were convinced that the "Vietnam syndrome" had been overcome. Nevertheless, there is growing refusal on the part of American workers in uniform to give their lives for the military adventures of their bourgeoisie. Since the beginning of the Iraq war, some 5,500 soldiers have deserted, while there is a shortfall of 5,000 men recruited for the National Guard (who make up half the troops). This total of 10,500 men represents nearly 8% of the force of 135,000 present in Iraq.

This kind of passive resistance does not in itself represent a perspective for the future. But the old mole of workers' consciousness goes on digging away. The slow awakening of proletarian resistance to the decline in its living conditions bears with it not only resistance to this old, putrefying world but eventually its destruction to do away for ever with its wars, its misery and its hypocrisy.


Jens, 9 April 2005-05-08


2 Available in English on marxists.org

3 Just before the eruption of Mount Pelée in Martinique, government "experts" assured the population that they had nothing to fear from the volcano.

5 Official publication of the American army association. Brigadier General John Sloan Brown, "Desert Storm as history – and prologue".

6 That is, Minister for Foreign Affairs

7 Agence France Presse, 18/01/2005.

8 Quoted on Al Jazeera.

9 So far, the only clear conclusion to come out of the investigation carried out by the United Nations, is to say that the assassination necessarily required the participation of one of the secret services working in the region, that is of Israel, France, Syria or America. Obviously we cannot rule out the hypothesis of the simple incompetence of the Syrian secret service.

10 The new state, which makes incessant use of the horror roused by the Holocaust against the Jews, is in its turn openly racist (Israel is based on the Jewish people and religion) and it is, with its "security wall", preparing to create a new and gigantic concentration camp in Gaza. This may seem like an irony of history but in fact it is in the very nature of capitalism itself. Arnon Soffer, one of the ideologists of Sharon's policy summarises the consequences of this policy: "When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it's going to be a human catastrophe. Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border is going to be awful. It's going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive , we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day" (quoted in Counterpunch).

11 Rosa Luxemburg, Junius pamphlet.

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