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The Peace of summer ‘88: The intensification of war preparations

According to the bourgeois press the world over, the summer of 88 will go down as the summer of peace, or at least of the hope of peace. Peace between Iran and Iraq, in Angola and Cambodia, and soon in Afghanistan. It will also, we are told, be remembered as the beginning of a process of nuclear disarmament between the two bloc leaders - the USA and the USSR - a process based on a real desire for peace by the rulers of the two main capitalist powers in the world. In short the perspective of peace is gaining the upper hand over the supposedly opposite perspective of a third world war.

Capitalism is war

One of the main positions of the theory of' the proletariat, of marxism, has always been that, in capitalism, peace and war are not con­tradictory, that they don't exclude each other. That they are two moments in the life of this mode of production; that peace is simply a preparation for war. Despite the ‘summer of 88', despite the agreements on ‘disarmament' between Reagan and Gorbachev, despite all the present pacifist propaganda, the historic alternative facing humanity is not between war and peace, but remains socialism or a third imperialist world war, socialism or barbarism. Or, more pre­cisely: socialism or an even more dramatic con­tinuation and development of capitalist barbarism.

We are thus confronted with two theses: that of bourgeois propaganda, and that of the revolu­tionary theory of the proletariat. The first contributes to the maintenance of the present social order by trying to develop the illusion that peace is possible under capitalism. For the second, for marxism, ‘war is necessary product of capitalism' (Lenin, the international social­ist congress of Stuttgart, 1907), and ‘humanity ... is threatened with destruction. There is only one force capable of having it, and that force is the proletariat.' (Platform of the Communist International, 1919).

The irreversible economic crisis is pushing capital towards imperialist war

Since 1945, the imperialist antagonism be­tween the western bloc and the eastern bloc has ceaselessly expressed itself in wars (Korea, Indochina, Middle East, etc ...). But today, the economic impasse, the slide into crisis, is more exacerbating these antagonisms and forcing capitalism into a headlong flight towards a third world war.

"From the moment that this crisis could no longer find a temporary solution in the expansion of the world market, world war in this cen­tury expresses and translates this phenomenon of the self-destruction of a system which by itself, cannot overcome its historic contradic­tions" (‘War in Capitalism', International Review 41, 1985).

The very basis of imperialist war resides in decadent capitalism's inability to avoid and overcome the economic crisis. It is the highest expression of this crisis and of the decline of the mode of production itself.

‘Peace' in the summer of 88: A step in the western offensive

‘It's peace', claim the papers and the TV: in Angola, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and above all between Iran and Iraq. And of course all this has also come after the disarmament agreement between the USA and the USSR[1]. According to the media, reason and wisdom have been winning out. Gorbachev and Reagan have been touched by the grace of pacifism. The leaders of the two main powers are beginning to listen to each other, to overcome the imperialist antagonisms which threaten the world. Good will is triumph­ing over the very laws of capitalism.

There it is then: the proof that capitalism doesn't necessarily mean war as marxism claims. But we continue to insist that it's the latter which is right.

Let's look a t things a bit more closely. These different outbreaks of ‘peace' are all va­rieties of a Pax Americana: the Russian army is leaving Afghanistan, the Cuban forces Angola, and the Vietnamese Cambodia. In fact, these different Russian retreats are the result of the USA's economic and more and more, its military support to the Afghan resistance and to the war waged by South Africa and the UNITA guerillas against Angola. Just as it is the immense mili­tary and economic pressure of the western bloc which has got the better of the Iranian Ayatol­lahs in the conflict with Iraq. If there's any reason in all this, it's the reason of the strongest, as is expressed unambiguously by the presence of the western armada in the Persian Gulf and the effectiveness of American Stinger missiles against Russian planes in Afghanistan.

The truth is that these outbreaks of ‘peace' not, the product of ‘reason', or pacifist is ‘good' will, but of the present balance of forces, between the blocs., The ‘peace' of summer 88 is the product of war.     

A product of war, the ‘peace' of summer 88 is also a preparation for wars to come, as Marxism insists. Marxism alone can uncover the hidden reality of imperialist conflict, and even, very often, predict their outcome. This is how we characterized the evolution of imperialist conflicts in 1984:

"Contrary to the propaganda spewed out daily by all the media of the Western bloc, this evo­lution's major characteristic is an offensive of the American against the Russian bloc. The West­ern bloc's aim in this offensive is to com­pletely surround the USSR, and strip it of all its positions outside its immediate influence. The West aims to expel Russia definitively from the Middle East by reintegrating Syria into its bloc. This will include bringing Iran to hell, and resituating it in the US bloc as a major component in the bloc's military apparatus. The ambition is to follow up with the recuperation of Indochina. In the end, the West aims to strangle Russia completely, and strip it of its super-power status". (International Review No 36).

We are now seeing the culmination of the sec­ond phase of the offensive of the US bloc against the USSR: bringing Iran to heel. We have already seen Syria manifesting its reintegration into the Western bloc - the first phase of this offensive - by taking on the role of America's gendarme in the Lebanon. The bringing to heel of Iran will mean the more or less rapid return of this country into the discipline of the Western bloc, which made it its gendarme for the region in the time of the Shah. And for this, US impe­rialism is prepared to keep its military forces in the Gulf for as long as it takes to ‘help' Iran to understand its proper role: exerting a direct pressure on the southern frontier of the USSR. The latter, after being expelled from the Middle East, has been practically excluded from Africa - except for Ethiopia, but for how long? - ­and must now withdraw its troops from Afghanistan. This Western offensive is going to carry on in Indochina: we have already seen this with the proposal to withdraw the Vietnamese army from Cambodia. It is aimed at depriving Russia of its last strongholds outside of Eu­rope.

This is the point we are now reaching.

Capitalism's only perspective: A third world war

The success of America's offensive against the USSR means for the latter a situation of growing isolation and weakness. It is going to find itself more and more trapped behind its east European ramparts; increasingly strangled, in fact.

If this process of imperialist confrontation between east and west reaches its end-point, Russia will find itself in the same situation as Germany before the first two world wars: com­pelled, under threat of being smothered to death, to unleash a third world war. And this in spite of an extremely unfavorable economic and military situation vis-a-vis its western rival. And in spite of all its dramatic consequences for humanity given the nature of present day ar­maments. Because this process of confrontations leading towards war is inherent in capitalism and can only be stopped by the destruction of this mode of production.

Today capitalism means a slide into misery war and barbarism

For the moment this process, which would no doubt lead to the destruction of most of human­ity, if not to its utter extinction, can't reach its culmination. We will return to this.

But it remains the case that capitalism con­tinues to survive, and like an overripe fruit is rotting where it lies. This is why we say that the alternative is no longer ‘socialism or bar­barism' but socialism or the continuation and development of capitalist barbarism. 80 years of historic decadence marked by a level of misery never before seen in the history of humanity - in particular the fact that two thirds of all human beings suffer from hunger, endless massacres in uninterrupted wars - including two world wars with millions of deaths - have provided ample proof of the obsolescence of the capitalist mode of production which, once a bearer of historical progress, has been transformed into a barrier, a mortal threat to the development and very sur­vival of humanity.

And for those who doubt the validity of the marxist thesis about the decadence of capitalism, let us briefly recall the macabre reality of the conflict between Iran and Iraq, which was consciously provoked, unleashed and kept going by the USA and its allies. According to the press (22/08/88): one million 200,000 deaths, 900,000 of them on the Iranian side, and many of these old people, children and women. The number of wounded and crippled is twice as high. No point here of going back over the massive use of gas warfare. The economies of the two countries have been devastated: arms expenditures by the two countries reached a sum of 200 billion dol­lars, as has the total bill for the destruction caused by the war.

And all this horror without any historical, economic or even territorial ‘benefit' for the two belligerents - except for an assured place in the conflicts to come.

Because, despite the various cease-fires, it's not peace that awaits the countries di­rectly concerned. Whether or not they are des­tined to serve as strongholds for imperialism ­like Iran - war, misery and social decomposition are going to develop. Their immediate future is the situation of the Lebanon. For the African and Middle Eastern countries in particular, as well as for Afghanistan, Cambodia, Iran, etc, the ‘peace' of 88 will mark another step into social decomposition, famine and misery, into interminable wars between various local gangs and factions. For these countries, it's not peace, it's ‘Lebanonisation' which awaits them ­an even more dramatic development of the economic and social putrefaction of capitalism.

This ‘Lebanonisation' is being expressed in particular in the explosion of ethnic massacres - the latest being in Burundi where there have been 25,000 killed in clashes between ‘Hutus' and ‘Tutsis'-- and also in the ‘nationalities ex­plosions', themselves accompanied by massacres, as in India with the Sikhs, with the Kurds in Iran and Iraq, and even in the ,USSR, in Azer­baidjan. These conflicts are one of the expres­sions of the growing decomposition of the social tissue in all countries.  

All this horror is the reality of decadent capitalism. War and decomposition are the only perspectives that this rotting system can offer humanity.

The proletariat is the only obstacle to imperialist war

We have already said that the process of the development of imperialist antagonisms between east and west cannot at present reach its apoca­lyptic climax. Despite the depth and accelera­tion of the economic crisis[2], despite the fact that the two great imperialist blocs have been in place since 1945, despite the economy being geared principally towards the production of arms, the third world war hasn't yet broken out.

Certainly, time is on the USA's side. This power was able to wait for 8 years for Iran to be exhausted and to begin to come to heel. It adopted the same stance in Afghanistan vis-a-vis the USSR. Because it has the initiative, the western bloc can allow Russia to exhaust itself in the arms race. Especially because the eastern bloc faces a difficult internal situation. Espe­cially its dominant power: the USSR is itself confronted with the ‘nationalities explosion' -most recently in the Baltic states - which, as we have seen, is one of the expressions of decompo­sition.

At the same time, Russia is on the defensive and finds it harder and harder to bear the weight of the war economy and the costs of its various military occupations. It is desperately searching for air, a breathing space so that it can prepare to resist the process leading to its strangulation.

But this isn't the essential reason for the fact that a worldwide conflict between the two blocs hasn't yet broken out. All the conditions for this are there, save one: the adhesion and submission of the populations, and above all of the workers who produce the bulk of social wealth and all the armaments, and who would con­stitute the main contingents in a generalized war. The workers today are not prepared to sac­rifice their lives in a war. At the same of writing, whatever the particularities and limits of the movement, the workers' strikes in Poland have once again demonstrated the combativity of the international proletariat, its refusal to accept without reacting the economic attacks im­posed by the crisis, the immense misery which inevitably accompanies the development of the war economy.

This workers' combativity has been expressed in the struggles of the past few years in defense of living conditions and against their brutal and growing deterioration, principally in Western Europe[3]. It constitutes a fetter, an obstacle to the development of the capitalist war-drive and its logical culmination in a third world imperialist conflict.

Many individual workers and revolutionary militants, and nearly all the political groups of the proletariat, falling prey to bourgeois propaganda, despair of the workers' struggles and even go so far as to deny their existence. And faced with the question of why war hasn't yet broken out even though all the objective conditions are there, these comrades despair of marxism and call its very foundations into ques­tion.

Pacifism disarms the working class and prepares it for war

The bourgeoisie itself doesn't doubt the ex­istence and the danger of the workers' strug­gles. It also knows very well that the civilian populations aren't ready to put up with the sac­rifices of a war. This is the raison d'être for the pacifist campaigns in the east as well as the west: they are directed mainly against the workers.

Despite all its ideological power, the US capitalist state would have great difficulty to­day in sending an expeditionary force of 500,000 soldiers to the field of battle, as at the time of Vietnam, without provoking very dangerous popular, and no doubt working class, reactions. And, even if it wasn't the main one, one of the reasons for Russia's retreat from Afghanistan was also the growing discontent amongst the pop­ulation in the USSR, and even among the troops, as could be seen from the violent disturbances which took place at a gathering of 8,000 parachutists, veterans of the Afghanistan war, in Moscow on 2nd August.

After the agreements on Euromissiles between Reagan and Gorbachev, and after the agreements and negotiations on Southern Africa, Iran/Iraq and Vietnam, the international bourgeoisie has been using the USSR's retreat from Afghanistan to keep up pacifist illusions within the working class. The ‘peace' imposed on Iran has also made it possible to present the huge Western fleet in the Gulf as being on a civilizing peace-keeping mission as opposed to the Ayatol­lah's Islamic fanaticism.

These pacifist campaigns are being organized by the governments, the media, the left parties and the unions. Their aim is to lull the work­ing class to sleep by making it believe that peace is possible under capitalism. They thus seek to prevent the workers becoming aware of the dramatic stakes of the present his­toric situation: proletarian revolution or World War III.

"Pacifism and the abstract slogan of peace are one of the forms used to deceive the working class. Under capitalism, above all in its imperialist phase wars are inevitable". (Lenin, Resolutions of the sections of the RSDLP in exile, March 1915)

And above all, by spreading the idea that the choice is between war and peace, by making war an absolute evil, pacifism rejects the class struggle, more particularly the struggle of the working class and the perspective of the prole­tarian revolution. Pacifism wants to lead the working class to abandon its combat, to accept growing exploitation, poverty and sacrifices. It wants to make the workers powerless in the face of the present historical drama by turning them away from the fight against the increasing economic attacks of capitalism in crisis.

The working class must not be lured by the sirens of pacifism, or abandon its struggles in the name of peace. If it does, its reward will be defeat first, and then generalized war. Un­der capitalism, the only possible peace is the peace of the grave. The ‘peace of summer 88' is preparing the intensification of imperialist war. And the pacifist campaigns are aimed at hiding this monstrous reality from the workers.

"Historically speaking the dilemma facing humanity is posed in the following way: a col­lapse into barbarism or salvation by socialism. Thus today we are living through the truths which Marx and Engels formulated for the first time as the scientific basis of socialism in that great document the Communist Manifesto: so­cialism has become a historic necessity" (Rosa Luxemburg, Speech on the program of the Commu­nist Party of Germany, 1/1/1919).

26/8/88



[1] On the reality behind the Euromissile agreements, see the editorial of IR no. 54.

[2] See the article oh the crisis in this is­sue.

[3] On the reality and significance of the present workers' struggles, see preceding issues of this Review (eg the editorial in no. 53), and in our territorial press.