Imperialist conflicts and class struggle: War in the Persian Gulf
The current world situation is at one and the same time presenting us with the war-like events in the Middle East, and with the workers' struggles in South Africa and South Korea. These two antagonistic aspects of the world situation - both based on the deepening crisis of capitalism - illustrate what we mean by the ‘acceleration of history'. They show that the ‘historic course', the balance of forces between the two perspectives of war and revolution, is the axis around which present and future historical events are unfolding. And though up till now the class struggle has managed to prevent humanity from embarking on an irreversible slide towards war, the acceleration of history underlines the vital necessity if it is to take its struggles forward, for the working class to develop its awareness of what's at stake in the world situation, and of its historic mission to transform society.
'The war of the embassies' in Europe, the bloody events in Mecca, the 'Irangate' scandal in the USA, UN resolutions. Behind all this, the western imperialist bloc, under the supreme command of the USA, has prepared and concealed the greatest military buildup since the Second World War. These events are on such a grand scale that they have had to be prepared very carefully, above all at the level of what is known as ‘public opinion'. This has been done. At the centre of all these detailed preparations, the recent events reveal the true significance of the Irangate scandal and of all the campaigns around it: to justify a major shift in US policy towards Iran.
Just as the ‘Watergate' scandal in 1973-74, which led to the resignation of President Nixon, corresponded to a change in international policy ( US withdrawal from Vietnam, rapprochement with China ), Irangate also corresponds to a change in the orientation of international politics. What has come out of this scandal except the ‘proof' that negotiation with the Iranian ‘terrorists' is impossible, that only force, the language of arms, can make them listen to reason?
For those who still think that this military intervention in the Persian Gulf, which has involved 40 of America's most sophisticated warships including two aircraft carriers, not to mention the air-naval forces, one half of the French fleet including one aircraft carrier, the most up-to-date war-ships of the British navy and tens of thousands of men - for those who think that all this isn't so important and who, lulled by the bourgeoisie's refrain about the ‘desire for peace' are content to doze off after expressing the view that this is really only an adventure in far-off lands without any major consequences or implications for Europe, we should simply like to recall that the First World War, which covered all Europe in blood, also began out of such ‘far-away' wars - the two Balkan wars, in a region close to the Middle East and playing an analogous strategic role: yesterday the confrontation between the great powers over access to the ‘warm seas'; today the main focus for east-west confrontation since this was symbolically declared at Yalta in 1945.
From all points of view the working class is concerned by such military engagements. How could it be otherwise when, just from the economic and social point of view, two thirds of humanity are suffering from hunger and unemployment is spreading a shadow of misery over a major part of the working class in the industrialized countries, and when at the same time as all this the present military intervention in the Gulf is officially costing the USA the astronomical sum of a million dollars a day, just for transportation costs? As for France, which is present on two fronts, Africa and the Middle East, no figures have been supplied, and no wonder.
"Fanaticism and terrorism" against "peace and civilization"
The policies of the USA are neither ‘chaotic' nor ‘incoherent', nor improvised on the spur of the moment as many commentators claim. Despite detours and contours that aren't always immediately comprehensible, the American strategy in the Middle East - a strategy of offensive aimed at strangling the Russian bloc - is based on an iron logic.
For seven years the states of the world have been happy enough simply to see the continuation of the Iran-Iraq war. Today the situation has qualitatively changed. After having ‘regulated' the situation in Lebanon, and completed Iran's isolation in the Middle East, the USA has decided to finish with the Iranian question once and for all. The USA is determined to re-establish Iran as the military fortress it was around 10 years ago. Because of its geographical position, the extent of its territory and its demographic density, no other country can take Iran's place in the region.
Faced with these undeniable realities, what is being said to justify intervention in the Persian Gulf? That the fanaticism of the Iranian population, which is subjugated by religious maniacs, is the cause of instability in the Gulf and of many other evils. The whole effort of western countries and of their bandleader the USA is by this token aimed at containing, ‘by force if necessary', this surge of religious fundamentalism, at achieving peace between Iran and Iraq and, of course, at ensuring the interests of the western countries through the free circulation of oil shipments in the Persian Gulf.
Thus the chancelleries both of the western world and of the Arab countries point to religious fanaticism in Iran as a dangerous source of trouble, a grave threat to peace in the Gulf.
First of all we don't accept that the population of Iran which, like that of Iraq, has been through seven years of a particularly murderous war, costing something like a million deaths, is greatly enthusiastic about waging a ‘holy war' against all the powers of the Arab world and, on top of that, against all the powers of the west.
All wars are atrocious, but this one is particularly so. As well as the power of modern weaponry, it has also involved chemical warfare. Neither side has rejected using any barbarity, either on the battle front or against urban concentrations.
How can we forget that over the past seven years, because of the shortage of combatants whom the war is cutting down in their thousands, 10 year old boys have been sent out by force to the front? And how can you measure the sacrifices demanded to pay for these years of war - even when you don't lose your life, or that of your children, or end up crippled? In these conditions, we are not mistaken in affirming that a very wide anti-war sentiment exists among the Iranian and Iraqi populations. You can't go through seven years of war without being cured of fanaticism. Despite the fact that the bourgeoisie understandably allows very little information about these things to get through, we know that there is real opposition to the war both in Iraq, and Iran:
"The population's hostility to the conflict is in close relation with the privations suffered in particular by the poor...In 1985, agitation which was habitually provoked by the economic situation was for the first time superseded by veritable demonstrations against the war." (International Institute for Strategic Studies, ‘Iraq-Iran: the Paralyzed War').
It's already quite staggering to hear the whole chorus of pacifist declarations which accompanies the deployment of this vast armada in the Gulf. But the duplicity of it all is even more striking when you bear in mind that this war, which they're now talking about bringing to an end, was begun, kept up, and nourished for seven years by those who are now shouting loudest about ‘peace'. It's no secret that the essential aim of the Iran-Iraq war was to destroy the religious regime in Tehran, the cost in human lives counting for little or nothing.
All the countries which, goaded by the USA, were in at the beginning of the conflict, especially Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, thought that the shock of the war in a country which had already been plunged into indescribable chaos after the fall of the Shah would rapidly result in the collapse of the Islamic regime. This perspective has not been verified, on the contrary. This war was supposed to be a short one but it's still very much with us. The Khomeini faction, far from collapsing, has fed on the war and has strengthened its grip on Iranian society through pitiless repression. The fact that a more ‘adaptable', less anachronistic faction than the Mullahs hasn't been installed in Iran shows the depth of social decomposition that has taken place since the Shah's time.
In any case, since the objective of getting rid of the Mullahs had momentarily failed, Iran and Iraq could only get sucked further into the war. A war kept going by all the international powers who, for seven years, have been supplying arms and all kinds of modern military material to the belligerents. Without all these arms, it would have been impossible to continue the conflict.
Realizing they could no longer hope for a rapid solution to the Iranian problem, particularly as long as the question of Syria and Lebanon was not ‘stabilized', and as long as Iran's isolation wasn't complete, the western world, the Arab countries and Israel adapted very nicely to the war.
So for years the whole fine imperialist world has drawn profit from the situation, above all through arms sales. At the head of the queue you will find France, which has sold Iraq modern weapons amounting to $7 billion worth (see ‘Iraq- Iran: the Paralyzed War'). The state of Israel, whose links to the USA can't be denied by anyone, has been the main supplier of arms to Iran during the war:
"Although Tehran denies any link of this kind, Iran has received deliveries of arms from Israel since the beginning of the war...at the time, the sum of these transactions could be estimated at nearly $100 million...In 1983 alone, arms deliveries to Iran reached $100 million." (ibid).
On other levels, apart from the arms sales which fed the carnage for the profit of a large number of nations, China and the USSR included, there has been a very broad consensus about this war. The Arab nations couldn't help viewing with satisfaction that this war kept their turbulent Iranian neighbor well occupied, and that two of the main oil producing countries in the Gulf were drastically cutting production at a time of over- production and falling oil prices. As for Israel, as long as Iran has been the soft underbelly in the defense of western interests in the Middle East, it could claim to be the sole occupant of the post of gendarme for the west, and draw all the advantages from this.
And then comes Russia which, although having no hope or possibility of gaining any real influence in Iran, would much rather see Iran at war than as a reliable US stronghold on the borders with Afghanistan which is under the occupation of Russian troops.
As long as the US was unable to get rid of the religious clique in Tehran, it permitted and encouraged the continuation of the war, sagely controlling the dosage of arms delivered to Baghdad and Tehran. The trick was to permit neither a decisive victory for Iran, which would have further strengthened the existing regime, or a crushing defeat that would have led to its complete collapse and prevented any possibility of reconstructing this military fortress of the western bloc.
From this standpoint, the continuation of the war and of tensions in the Gulf offered the USA the not inconsiderable advantage of the Arab countries being more dependent on America:
"The Gulf states were thus condemned to give financial support to Baghdad and to strengthen their own systems of civil and military defense against Tehran. Their implicit dependence on American guarantees, as well as the political weight of this de facto alliance, was brutally increased." (ibid).
These are the realities of imperialism's danse macabre in the Persian Gulf. And we have only traced its broad outlines.
At a general level this escalation is not a disordered sequence of actions and efforts, without any coherent goal and whose consequences are limited geographically to the Middle East. The present situation in the Persian Gulf is the continuation of an overall strategy which, even if it doesn't directly set US and Russian imperialism against each other, is fully part of the global logic of this confrontation.
When the USA has succeeded in ‘settling' the Iranian question, ie when it once again has made Iran a bastion of its military positions in the Middle East, this settlement will in the final analysis mark up another notch in militarism's planetary advance. After establishing the peace of the grave, the western bloc won't be able to rely simply on its economic power - which is already in a bad enough state in the metropoles ‑ to maintain ‘order' in such an unstable region, where economic decomposition has already reached a very advanced point. It will become obligatory to install a permanent military order at the very frontiers of Russia, thus marking a heightened degree in world imperialist tensions.
The development of military tension and the historic stakes
Let's move our attention for a moment away from the Middle East. The flames of the class struggle are burning in South Africa. In South Korea, a massive movement of the working class has, by its pugnacity, its intransigence and its courage, shattered into a thousand pieces the shop-window display of an Asian proletariat made up of docile slaves. And these are only the most recent expressions of a powerful, world-wide flood of insubordination to the laws of capital in crisis.
The whole world situation is contained in this contradiction, in the opposition between the two perspectives which derive from the decadence of capitalism: war or revolution.
Up till now the struggles of the international working class has pushed back the bourgeois perspective of war. By refusing to sacrifice itself for the survival of the bourgeois economy, it has pushed back the perspective of a supreme sacrifice on the altar of imperialism. All honor is due to the class for having, through its struggles, through its resistance to exploitation, forged a spirit alien to the servile conceptions of fatalism.
But as the world situation as a whole shows us, history is accelerating and in doing so becomes more demanding. It is demanding the proletariat becomes conscious of what it has already done, and, by developing this consciousness, that it pushes it to its logical conclusion. From being a de facto international movement, the workers' struggle can and must become an internationalist movement.
History can often be thankless but it never demands the impossible. Along with historical necessity, the conditions for its realization are also developed. Through the development of the economic crisis, that veritable scourge of society and of the barbarism it brings about; through the international development of the proletarian struggle itself, the working class is now compelled to take its combat onto a higher level. The experience accumulated through its repeated assaults on the fortress of capitalism will give it the strength and the means to do so.
If it is to become conscious of its historic mission, the proletariat can't wait to be submerged in barbarism, otherwise it will be too late. On the terrain of the economy itself, the struggle between labor and capital is already a barricade in the way of the march towards the third world war, and today the workers' struggles can and must point to the proletariat's own perspective. Destroying frontiers, exploitation, and the profit economy is the only way to sweep away, once and for all, the threat of disaster which capitalism suspends over humanity.
Prenat, 5.9. 87.