There is only one alternative: workers' struggle to overthrow capitalism

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This summer has witnessed yet another outburst of military barbarism. Just as the principal countries were counting their medals at the Olympic Games, terrorist attacks hit the Middle East, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Turkey and India. In less than two months, 16 such attacks followed each other in a macabre dance that left scores of dead among the urban populations. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there is full-scale war.

But this militarist barbarism was at its height in Georgia.

Once again, the Caucasus was aflame. At the very moment that Bush and Putin were taking part in the opening of the Olympics, so-called symbol of peace and reconciliation between nations, the Georgian president Saakashvili, the protégé of the White House, and the Russian bourgeoisie, sent their troops off to slaughter the civilian population.

This war between Russia and Georgia resulted in a veritable ethnic cleansing on each side, with several thousands deaths, mostly civilians.

As ever, it was the local populations (whether Russian, Ossetian, Abkhazian or Georgian) who were taken hostage by all the national factions of the ruling class.

On both sides, the same scenes of killing and horror. Throughout Georgia, the number of refugees, stripped of everything they owned, reached 115,000 in one week.

And as in all wars, each camp accused the other of being responsible for the outbreak of hostilities.

But it is not just the direct protagonists who are responsible for this new war and these new massacres. The other states who are now shedding hypocritical tears about the fate of Georgia have their hands soaked with blood from the worst kinds of atrocities, whether we're talking about the US in Iraq, France in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, or Germany, which, by backing the secession of Slovenia and Croatia, helped unleash the terrible war in ex-Yugoslavia in 1992.

If today the US is sending warships to the Caucasus region, in the name of ‘humanitarian aid', this is certainly not out of any concern for human life, but simply to defend its imperialist interests.

Are we heading towards a third world war?

The most striking thing about the conflict in the Caucasus is the increasing military tension between the great powers. The two former bloc leaders, Russia and the US, once again find themselves in a dangerous head-to-head: the US Navy destroyers who have come with ‘food aid' for Georgia are only a short distance away from the Russian naval base of Gudauta in Abkhazia and the Georgian port of Poti which is occupied by Russian tanks.

This is all very nerve-wracking and one might legitimately ask not just what is the aim of this war But even whether it could unleash a third world war?

Since the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the Caucasus region has been an important geostrategic bone of contention between the great powers. The present conflict has been building up for some time. The Georgian president, an unconditional partisan of Washington, took over a state which from its creation in 1991 had been supported by the US as a bridgehead for Bush Senior's ‘New World Order'.

By laying a trap for Saakashvili, into which he duly fell, Putin has used the occasion to re-establish his authority in the Caucasus; but this was in response to the encirclement of Russia by NATO forces which has been under way since 1991.

Since the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989, Russia has been more and more isolated, especially since a number of former Eastern bloc countries (like Poland) joined NATO.

But the encirclement became intolerable for Moscow when Ukraine and Georgia also asked to join NATO.

Above all, Russia could not accept the plan to set up an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow knew perfectly well that behind this NATO programme, supposedly directed against Iran, Russia itself was the real target.

The Russian offensive against Georgia is in fact Moscow's first stab at breaking the encirclement.

Russia, having just re-established its authority in the Caucasus thanks to the costly and murderous war in Chechnya, has taken advantage of the fact that the US, with its troops bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, had its hands too full to launch a military counter-offensive.

However, despite the worsening military tension between Russia and the USA, the perspective of a third world war is not on the agenda today.

There are today no imperialist blocs, no stable military alliances as was the case before the two world wars of the 20th century or during the Cold War.

By the same token, the face-off between the US and Russia does not mean that we are entering a new Cold War. There's no going back and history does not repeat itself.

In contrast to the dynamic of imperialist tensions between the great powers during the Cold War, this new head-to-head between Russia and the US is marked by the tendency towards ‘every man for himself', towards the dislocation of alliances, characteristic of the phase of the decomposition of the capitalist system.

Thus the ‘ceasefire' in Georgia can only legitimate the victory of the masters of the Kremlin and Russia's superiority on the military level, involving a humiliating capitulation by Georgia to the conditions dictated by Moscow.

And Georgia's ‘patron', the US, has also suffered a major reverse here. While Georgia has already paid a heavy price for its allegiance to the US (a contingent of 2000 troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan), in return Uncle Sam has been able to offer no more than moral support to its ally, issuing vain and purely verbal condemnations of Russia without being able to raise a finger to offer practical help.

But the most significant aspect of this weakening of US leadership resides in the fact that the White House had to swallow the ‘European' plan for a ceasefire - worse still, a plan dictated by Moscow.

While the USA's impotence was evident, Europe's role shows the level that ‘every man for himself' has reached. Faced with the paralysis of the US, European diplomacy swung into action, led by the French president Sarkozy who once again represented no one but himself in all his comings and goings, following a policy that was entirely short-term and devoid of any coherence.

Europe once again looked like a snake pit with everyone in it pursuing diametrically opposed interests. There was not an ounce of unity in its ranks: on one side were Poland and the Baltic states, fervent defenders of Georgia (because they suffered over half a century of Russian domination and have much to fear from a revival of the latter's imperialist ambitions) and on the other was Germany, which was one of the most fervent opponents of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO, above all because it wants to block the development of American influence in this region.

But the most fundamental reason that the great powers cannot unleash a third world war lies in the balance of forces between the two main social classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Unlike the periods which preceded the two world wars, the working class of the most decisive capitalist countries, notably in Europe and America, is not ready to serve as cannon fodder and sacrifice itself on the altar of capital.

With the return of the permanent crisis of capitalism at the end of the 1960s and the historic resurgence of the proletariat, a new course towards class confrontations was opened up: in the most important capitalist countries the ruling class can no longer mobilise millions of workers behind the defence of the nation.

However, although the conditions for a third world war have not come together, this is no reason to underestimate the gravity of the present situation.

The war in Georgia has increased the risk of destabilisation, of things running out of control, not only on the regional level, but also on the world level, where it will have inevitable implications for the balance of imperialist forces in the future. The ‘peace plan' is just a bluff. It contains all the ingredients of a new and dangerous military escalation, threatening to create a series of flash-points from the Caucasus to the Middle East.

With the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea and the central Asian countries, some of which are Turkish-speaking, Iran and Turkey have interests in this region, but the whole world is involved in the conflict. Thus, one of the objectives of the USA and some Western European countries in supporting a Georgia independent from Moscow is to deprive Russia of the monopoly of Caspian Sea oil supplies towards the west thanks to the Baku-Tbilissi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline that runs from Azerbaijan, through Georgia to Turkey. There are thus major strategic interests at stake in this region. And the big imperialist brigands can all the more easily use people as cannon fodder in the Caucasus given that the region is a mosaic of different ethnicities. This makes it easy to fan the fire of nationalist war.

At the same time, Russia's past as a dominant power still exerts a very heavy weight and contains the threat of even more serious imperialist tensions. This is what lies behind the anxiety of the Baltic states, and above all of Ukraine which is a nuclear-armed military power of quite another stature to Georgia.

Thus although the perspective is not of a third world war, the dynamic of ‘every man for himself' is just as much the expression of the murderous folly of capitalism: this moribund system could, in its decomposition, lead to the destruction of humanity by plunging it into bloody chaos.

Faced with the bankruptcy of capitalism, what is the alternative?

In the face of all this chaos and military barbarism, the historical alternative is more than ever ‘socialism or barbarism', world communist revolution or the destruction of humanity. Peace is impossible in capitalism; capitalism carries war within itself. And the only future for humanity lies in the proletarian struggle for the overthrow of capitalism.

But this perspective can only become a reality if the workers refuse to serve as cannon-fodder for the interests of their exploiters, and firmly reject nationalism.

Everywhere the working class must put into practice the old slogan of the workers' movement: ‘The workers have no country. Workers of all countries unite!'

It is obvious that the proletariat cannot remain indifferent to the massacre of civilians and the unleashing of military barbarism,.It must show its solidarity with its class brothers in the countries at war, first of all by refusing to support one camp against the other, and secondly by developing its own struggles against its own exploiters in all countries. This is the only way it can really fight against capitalism, prepare the ground for its overthrow and for the construction of a new society without national frontiers and wars.

This perspective of the overthrow of capitalism is no utopia because everywhere capitalism is proving itself to be a bankrupt system.

When the Eastern bloc collapsed, Bush Senior and the whole of the ‘democratic' Western ruling class promised us a ‘New World Order' (to be set up under the aegis of the USA), a new era of peace and prosperity.

The entire world bourgeoisie engaged in gigantic campaigns about the so-called ‘failure of communism', trying to make the workers believe that the only possible future was Western-style capitalism with its ‘market economy'.

Today it is becoming more and more evident that it is capitalism that is failing, notably the world's leading power which has now become the locomotive dragging the whole capitalist economy towards the abyss (see our editorial in International Review n°133).

This failure is visible day after day in the increasing degradation of working class living standards, not only in the ‘poor' countries but also in the ‘rich' ones.

Just to take the USA as an example, unemployment there is rising rapidly and today 6% of the population is without work. Since the beginning of the ‘subprime' crisis, two million workers have been evicted from their houses because they can no longer keep up with their mortgage payments (and between today and the beginning of 2009, another million are facing the same threat).

And this is not even to mention the poor countries: with the increase in the price of basic foodstuffs, the most deprived strata are faced with the horror of famine. This is why hunger riots have broken out world wide this year - in Mexico, Bangladesh, Haiti, Egypt, the Philippines....

Today, with the facts staring them in the face, the spokesmen of the bourgeoisie can no longer conceal the truth. The shops are full of new books with alarmist titles. And above all, the declarations of the people in charge of the main economic institutions can no longer hide their anxiety:

"We are faced with one of the most difficult economic and fiscal environments we have ever seen" (the President of the US Federal Reserve, 22nd August).

"For the economy, the crisis is a tsunami on the horizon" (Jacques Attali, French economist and politician, Le Monde, 8th August).

"The present conjuncture is the most difficult for several decades" (according to HSBC, one of the world's biggest banks, cited in Libération 5th August).

The perspective for the development of the class struggle

In reality, the collapse of the Stalinist regimes did not show the failure of communism, but its necessity.

The collapse of state capitalism in the USSR was in fact the most spectacular demonstration of the historic failure of world capitalism. It was a first great shockwave expressing the whole system's bankruptcy. Today a second shockwave is hitting the world's most powerful ‘democratic' power, the United States.

With the aggravation of the economic crisis and of military conflicts, we are witnessing an acceleration of history.

But this acceleration is also being expressed at the level of the workers' struggle, even if this does not appear in such a spectacular way.

If you took a still photograph of the situation, you might think that nothing was happening and that the workers were not moving. The workers' struggles don't seem to be adequate to the task at hand and the future looks grim.

But this is only the visible part of the iceberg.

In reality, as we have emphasised many times in our press, the struggles of the world proletariat have taken on a new dynamic since 2003[1].

The struggles that have been developing in the four corners of the world have been marked in particular by the search for active solidarity and the entry of the younger generation into the proletarian combat (as we saw in particular with the struggle of the French students against the CPE in the spring of 2006).

This dynamic shows that the working class has rediscovered the path of struggle, a path that was momentarily erased by the huge campaigns about the ‘death of communism' following the collapse of the Stalinist regimes.

Today the aggravation of the crisis and the deterioration of working class living standards can only push the workers to develop their struggles, to seek for solidarity, to unify across the world.

In particular, the spectre of inflation which is once again haunting capitalism, with the dizzying increase in prices accompanied by a fall in incomes (wages, pensions, etc) can only contribute to the unification of workers' struggles.

But two questions in particular will play a part in the proletariat becoming conscious of the bankruptcy of the system and the necessity for communism.

The first question is hunger and the generalisation of food shortages, which reveals beyond the shadow of a doubt that capitalism can no longer feed humanity and that we therefore have to move on to a new mode of production.

The second fundamental question is the absurdity of war, the murderous folly of capitalism which is destroying more and more human lives in endless slaughter.

It is true that, in an immediate sense, war creates fear and the bourgeoisie does all it can to paralyse the working class, to inject into it a feeling of powerlessness and to make it believe that war is just a fatality you can do nothing about. But at the same time the involvement of the great powers in military conflicts (especially in Iraq and Afghanistan) is provoking more and more discontent.

With American forces bogged down in Iraq, there is a growing anti-war feeling in the US population. We have seen this expressed in ‘public opinion' surveys, and it was the same in France after the French bourgeoisie paid homage to the 10 French troops killed in an ambush in Afghanistan on 18th August.

But alongside the discontent within the population at large, there is a deep process of reflection going on within the working class.

The clearest sign of this is the emergence of a new proletarian political milieu which has developed around the defence of internationalist positions against war (notably in Korea, the Philippines, Turkey, Russia and Latin America).[2]

War is not a fatality that leaves humanity powerless. Capitalism is not an eternal system. War is not all that capitalism bears within itself. It also bears the conditions for going beyond it, the germs of a new society without national frontiers and thus without wars.

By creating a world working class, capitalism has given birth to its own gravedigger. Because the exploited class, unlike the bourgeoisie, has no antagonistic interests to defend, it is the only force in society which can unify humanity by building a world based on solidarity and the satisfaction of human need.

There is still a long way to go before the world proletariat will be able to raise its struggles to the level demanded by the gravity of the present situation. But in the context of the acceleration of the world economic crisis, the dynamic of the class struggle today, as well as the entry of new generations into the movement, show that the proletariat is on the right road.

Today internationalist revolutionaries are still a small minority. But they have the duty to carry on a debate to overcome their differences and make their voices heard as clearly as possible wherever they can. It is precisely by being able to carry out a clear intervention against the barbarity of war that they will be able to regroup their forces and contribute to the proletariat becoming aware of the necessity to wage an offensive against the fortress of capital.

SW (12.9.08)


[1] See in particular the following articles ‘Against the world wide attacks of crisis-ridden capitalism: one working class, one class struggle' (International Review n°132) and ‘17th Congress of the ICC: resolution on the international situation' (International Review n°130)

[2] As well as the resolution on the international situation from the 17th ICC Congress, the reader can also consult, also in International Review n°130, ‘17th Congress of the ICC: the proletarian camp reinforced worldwide'