Editorial: The masks are down!

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Mercilessly, events are giving the lie to bourgeois propaganda. Never, perhaps, has reality laid bare so fast the massive doses of lies doled out by the hypertrophied media of the ruling classes. The "new era of peace and prosperity" lauded so extravagantly by political leaders throughout the world has shown itself to be a hollow dream, only a few months later. This new period has turned out to be, on the contrary, one of growing chaos, of a plunge into the worst economic crisis that capitalism has ever known, of a proliferation of conflicts where military barbarism has scaled heights rarely equaled, from the Gulf War to ex-Yugoslavia.

This abrupt increase in tension on the international scene is an expression of the catastrophic, and explosive, crisis that is undermining every level of capitalism's existence. Obviously, the ruling class cannot admit this since to do so would mean admitting its own impotence, and thus the bankruptcy of the system that it represents. All the reassuring declarations, all the determined pretence to control the situation, are inevitably contradicted by the unfolding of events themselves. More and more, all the ruling class' talk appears openly for what it is: lies. Whether they be conscious lies or merely the product of its own illusions makes no difference: never has there been so crying a contradiction between reality and the bourgeoisie's propaganda.

A few years ago, the Western bourgeois delighted in the almost total discredit of the stalinist ruling class in the Eastern bloc, since this discredit made them look better by contrast. Today, they are caught in the same dynamic of declining credibility. More and more, it is becoming evident that they use the same weapons: first, the lie; then when that is no longer enough, repression.

Bosnia: the lie of a peaceful and humanitarian capitalism

For the Western powers, the war in Bosnia has been an opportunity to wallow in a media orgy of defending "plucky little Bosnia" against the Serbian ogre. Politicians of every complexion have no words too harsh and no images to shocking, to denounce the barbarity of Serbian expansionism: the prison camps compared to the Nazi extermination camps, ethnic cleansing, the mass rape of Muslim women, the awful suffering of the hostage civilian population. They have shown a fine facade of unanimity, where humanitarian efforts are mingled with repeated threats of military intervention.

But behind the unity portrayed by the media, the reality is one of division. The contradictory interests of the great powers have not so much left them impotent to put an end to the conflict, but have rather been the essential factor which caused it. Through the intermediary of Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia, France, Britain, Germany and the United States have moved their imperialist pawns on the Balkan chessboard, while their crocodile tears served to hide their active role in the continuing war.

The recent Washington agreement, signed by the US, Britain, France, Spain and Russia has sanctioned the hypocrisy of the ideological campaigns which have succeeded each other during the last two years of war and massacre. It recognizes the Serbian territorial gains. Farewell to the oft-declared dogma of "the inviolability of internationally recognized frontiers". And now the press goes on and on about the impotence of post-Maastricht Europe, and of Clinton's USA, to make the Serbs give in, and to impose their demands for "peace" on the new Hitler Milosevic, who has replaced Saddam Hussein in the media chamber of horrors. Yet another lie, designed to perpetuate the idea that the great powers are peaceful, that they really want to put an end to the bloody conflicts ravaging the planet, and that the warmongers are only the petty despots of third-rate local powers.

Capitalism is war. This truth is written in letters of blood all through its history. Since World War II, not a day has passed without a war somewhere or other adding to the pile of horrific misery and massacre. And in every one, the great powers have been involved to a greater or lesser extent, fanning the flames in the name of the defense of the global strategic interests: the innumerable colonial wars in Indochina, Angola, Kenya, Malaysia; the Korean war, the Algerian war, the Vietnam war; the Arab-Israeli wars; the "civil" war in Cambodia, the Iran-Iraq war, the war in Afghanistan; and on, and on. In every one of these wars, bourgeois propaganda has wept over the martyred populations and the atrocities committed by one side or another, the better to justify its support for the opposing camp. And not one of these wars could have been fought without the weapons supplied in abundance by the great powers that make them. Every one of these conflicts has been concluded with hypocritical declarations of a return to eternal peace, while the ministries and military headquarters prepare their secret plans for the next war.

With the collapse of the Eastern bloc, Western propaganda has been pretending that the disappearance of the antagonism between East and West has removed the world's main source of conflict, and that we were on the verge of a "new era of peace" as a result. This lie has already been used after Germany's defeat brought World War II to a close, and it only lasted until the erstwhile allies - the Stalinist USSR and the Western democracies - were once again ready to rip each other apart for a new division of the world. On this level, the present situation is not fundamentally different. Even if the USSR has not been defeated militarily, its collapse has given free rein to the rivalries between yesterday's allies in a new world share-out. The Gulf War demonstrated how the great powers intend to keep the peace: with war. The massacre of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi soldiers and civilians was not aimed at overthrowing the local tyrant Saddam Hussein[1]. With the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the Western bloc likewise had lost its main factor of cohesion, and the Gulf War was the result of the USA's determination to warn its one-time allies of the risks they ran in trying to play their own hand.

The break-up of Yugoslavia is the result of Germany's desire to profit from the Yugoslav crisis to recover one of its old spheres of influence, and through Croatia to gain access to the Mediterranean. Germany's "good friends" had no intention of allowing it free access to the Croatian ports, and encouraged Serbia to attack Croatia. The USA then encouraged Bosnia to declare its independence in the hope of gaining a faithful ally in the region: the various European powers, for various contradictory reasons, has no desire to see this happen, and this was expressed in a two-faced attitude which on this occasion plumbed new depths of duplicity. While they all proclaimed their desire to protect Bosnia in public, in reality they encouraged the Serbian and Croatian advances and sabotaged the possibility of an American intervention. This complex reality was expressed in the propaganda. All the powers hypocritically agreed that little Bosnia should be protected from aggression; they all competed in "pacifist" and "humanitarian" declarations, but as soon as it came to concrete proposals, complete pandemonium reigned supreme. The USA on the one hand pushed for a tough intervention, while the French and the British, with delaying tactics and diplomatic ruses, did everything they could to prevent it.

Today's alliances may well change tomorrow, in which case Serbia will be presented as an acceptable ally. In the end, all these ardent humanitarian declarations appear for what they are: pure propaganda designed to hide the reality of deepening imperialist tensions between the great Western powers which once were allied against the USSR, but which since its collapse have engaged in a complex reorganization of their alliances. Germany aspires once again to play the role of bloc leader, which it lost with its defeat in World War II. Since there is no longer, or not yet, any bloc discipline, every country is "looking after number one" and playing its own imperialist card.

The situation in Bosnia is thus not the result of the great powers' impotence to restore peace, but on the contrary of the dynamic which is pushing yesterday's allies into confrontation on the imperialist terrain, even if for the moment it is still only indirectly.

If there is one power which has suffered a setback, and an avowal of impotence, in Bosnia, it is the USA. The US had used the Serbo-Croat conflict to show up the impotence and divisions of Europe. With the ceasefire signed between Serbia and Croatia, the US played the Bosnian card. Its inability to protect the latter has reduced its pretentions to the level of a third-rate actor's tirades. More than any other, the USA has upped the ante on the conflict, criticizing the timidity of the Vance-Owen agreement and the share it gives to the Serbs, and constantly menacing the latter with a massive military intervention. But they have not been able to carry this intervention out. The USA's inability to carry out its threats has dealt a sharp blow to their international credibility. What the US gained from the Gulf War has largely been lost by their setback in Bosnia. As a result, the centrifugal tendencies that encourage their ex-allies to escape from American tutelage and play their own imperialist card, have been reinforced and accelerated. As for those bourgeois factions which counted on US protection, they are now likely to think twice before doing so again: the fate of Bosnia is there to give them pause.

The Americans cannot ignore this situation. They are forced to react. The recent bombardments in Somalia and the dispatch of US troops to Macedonia herald a new sharpening of imperialist tensions.

Yesterday's allies still practice the same ideological faith which kept them together against the USSR. But behind the unity of propaganda, is a hotbed of mutual rivalry; after Bosnia, they herald new wars and new massacres. All the fine words, all the crocodile tears have only one aim: to hide the imperialist reality of the Yugoslav conflict, and to justify the war.

The economic crisis: the fake recovery

War is not an expression of the bourgeoisie's impotence, but of capitalism's inherently warlike nature. By contrast, the economic crisis is the clear expression of the ruling class' inability to overcome the contradictions of the capitalist economy itself. The pacifist proclamations of the ruling class are a pure lie: it has never been pacifist; war has always been a means for one bourgeois fraction to defend its own interests against the others, and one that it never hesitated to use. By contrast, all the fractions of the bourgeoisie dream sincerely of a capitalism without crises, without recessions, a capitalism of eternal prosperity producing ever more juicy profits. The ruling class cannot imagine that there is no solution to the crisis, since to do so would be to recognize its own historic limits. As a dominant exploiting class, it can neither accept nor even imagine its own negation in this way.

Between the dream of a capitalism without crises, and today's reality of a world economy incapable of escaping from recession, lies a gulf which grows wider every day, to the increasing disquiet of the ruling class. And yet it is not so long ago that the "liberal" Western bourgeoisie saw in the economic collapse of the USSR a proof of its own unshakeable health, and its ability to surmount every obstacle. At the time, the media indulged in an orgy of self-satisfaction, where capitalism was promised an eternal and radiant future. History did not wait long to take a brutal revenge on all these illusions, and to strip bare these lies.

The USSR's collapse was still incomplete when the crisis returned to the heart of the world's greatest economic power: the USA. Since then, it has spread like an epidemic to the whole world economy. Japan and Germany have in their turn been laid low. The ink was scarcely dry on the Maastricht treaty, promising a European renewal and economic prosperity, when the whole edifice collapsed with the crisis in the European Monetary System, followed by the recession.

The brutal acceleration of the world crisis is giving the lie to every country's propaganda about the recovery. The bourgeoisie is nonetheless still singing the same song - "we have the solution" - and proposing new economic plans to pull capitalism out of the mire. But none of these measures have any effect. Hardly has the ruling class had time to welcome a brief favorable tremor in the economic statistics, than reality lays bare its illusions again. The latest important example is US growth: hardly had he arrived in the White House than Clinton proudly announced a growth rate of 4.7% for the US economy (4th quarter 1992), and predicted the end of the recession. But these high hopes were soon dashed. Growth for the first quarter 1993 was forecast to be 2.4%: in reality, it was a mere 0.9%. The worldwide recession is there, and nothing the ruling class does can shift it. Panic is growing in the ruling circles, and nobody knows what to do.

Since none of the classical measures to encourage recovery have done any good, the bourgeoisie only has one argument left: "you must accept sacrifices today, so that things will get better tomorrow". This argument is used constantly to justify the austerity programs against the working class. Since the return of the historic crisis at the end of the 1960's, this kind of argument has of course come up against the discontent of the workers who have had to foot the bill, but it has still retained a certain credibility inasmuch as the alternation between periods of recession and recovery seemed to lend it some validity. But the poverty which has gone on getting worse everywhere, from one austerity plan to another, only to lead to the present catastrophic situation, show that all the sacrifices in the past have been in vain.

Despite all the plans "against unemployment" set up by governments in every industrialized country, unemployment has continued to grow. Today, it is reaching new heights. Every day, more redundancies are announced. With taxes rising, wages falling - or at least rising more slowly than inflation - nobody any longer has the nerve to pretend that living standards are improving. In the towns of the developed world, the poor are more and more numerous, reduced to homelessness because they cannot afford to pay rent, and to beggary to survive. They bear a dramatic witness to the social decay at the heart of the richest capitalist countries.

The bourgeoisie has made the most of the political, economic, and social bankruptcy of the stalinist "model" of state capitalism, falsely identified with communism, to repeat ad nauseam that only "liberal" capitalism can bring prosperity. The crisis is forcing it to eat its words.

The truth of the class struggle against the lies of the bourgeoisie

As the crisis degenerates, the bourgeoisie sees before it the terrifying specter of a social crisis. And only a little while ago, the bourgeoisie's ideologues thought that the bankruptcy of stalinism proved the inanity of marxism and the absurdity of any idea of class struggle. In its wake, the very existence of the working class was denied, and the historic perspective of socialism was presented as a "nice idea" but one which it would be impossible to carry out. All this propaganda has created a profound sense of doubt within the working class as to the possibility and necessity of another system, another kind of relation between human beings, to put an end to the barbarity of capitalism.

The working class remains profoundly confused by the rapid succession of events and intense media campaigns. Nonetheless, it will be pushed by events to take up the struggle again, against the constant and worsening attacks on its living conditions.

Since the autumn of 1992, and the mass demonstrations of angry Italian workers against the government's new austerity plan, signs are appearing in many countries of a slow renewal in proletarian combativity: in Germany, Belgium, Britain, Spain, etc. In a situation where the constant deepening of the crisis implies ever more draconian austerity plans, this dynamic can only accelerate and spread. With growing anxiety, the ruling class sees the inevitable perspective advance of a development of the class struggle. Its room for maneuver is shrinking. Not only is it unable to delay its attacks for tactical purposes, its ideological cover is wearing thin.

The impotence of all the bourgeois parties to resolve the crisis, to give the appearance of being good managers, only serves to discredit them further. Under today's conditions, no ruling party hope to profit from its popularity: we need only look at how, after a few months of deepening crisis, the popularity in the opinion polls of Mitterrand in France, Major in Britain, or even the newly elected Clinton in the USA, has fallen sharply. he situation is the same everywhere. The managers of capital, whether from the right or from the left, have revealed their impotence, and so laid bare the lies they have peddled for so many years. Internationally, the participation of the socialist parties in the management of the state in Italy, France, or Spain has shown that they are no different from the right-wing parties, from which they want so much to distinguish themselves. The stalinist parties are discredited by the collapse of their Russian model, and this too rubs off on the socialists. The proliferation of "scandals" showing up the generalized corruption within the ruling class is creating a rejection of the political apparatus verging on disgust. The whole "democratic" model of capitalist management is being shaken to the foundations. Every day, the gulf between reality and what the bourgeoisie says grows deeper. Consequently, the gulf between the state and civil society cannot but grow deeper also. The result today is that it has become a cliché‚ to say that politicians lie: the whole exploited class is deeply convinced of the fact.

But to see through one lie does not mean that one is immune to new mystifications, or that one has seen the truth. The proletariat is in this situation today. That the world is plunging towards catastrophe, that all the reassuring speeches are pure propaganda: the vast mass of workers understands this more and more. But if this is not accompanied by the search for an alternative, and a reappropriation by the proletariat of its revolutionary traditions, by the reassertion through struggle of its central role in society, and of its existence as a revolutionary class bearing a future for humanity, then disillusion can just as well lead to confusion and apathy. The present dynamic, in the light of the deepening economic crisis, pushes the working class to think, to search for a solution which can only, in accordance with the class' own being, be the new society that it bears within it: communism. Faced with the disaster that the ruling class can no longer hide, more and more is it necessary to put forward the revolutionary perspective.

The ruling class is not remaining passive in this situation. Even if its system is falling into chaos, it is not just going to give up the fight. It will hang on to social power with all its strength; it will do everything it can to hinder the development of proletarian consciousness, which it knows means its own demise. As its mystifications wear thin, it invents new ones or reuses the old with greater insistence. It even uses the decomposition gangrening its system as a new means to confuse the proletariat. Poverty in the "Third World and the barbarity of war are used to encourage the idea that wherever the catastrophe has not reached such a point, there is no reason to complain or protest. When scandals and political corruption are dragged into the light of day, as in Italy, they are used to give credit to the idea of a renewal of the political apparatus, and of a "clean state". Even the workers' own misery is used to deceive them. Fear of unemployment is used to justify reductions in wages, in the name of "solidarity". In every country, "protecting jobs" is the pretext for chauvinist campaigns, while "immigrant" workers are the perfect scapegoats to spread division within the working class. The bourgeoisie no longer has any historic future. It can only survive by the lie. It is the class of the lie. And when the lie is no longer enough, it still has the force of repression which does not mystify, but reveals openly the true face of capitalist barbarism.

Socialism or barbarism. This is the alternative posed by revolutionaries at the beginning of the century. It is more immediate than ever. Either the working class lets itself be taken in by the bourgeoisie's mystifications, and the whole of humanity is doomed along with capitalism to a process of decomposition which would mean its death. Or, the proletariat develops its ability to struggle, to lay bare the lies of the bourgeoisie, and to advance towards its own revolutionary goal. This is what is at stake in the present period. The winds of history are pushing the proletariat to assert its revolutionary being, but the future is certain. The bourgeoisie's masks are falling, but it makes new ones all the time. It is up to the proletariat to strip them away for good.

JJ



[1] Saddam, moreover, is still in power. For years, during the war with Iran, he was supported and armed to the teeth without any hesitation by the Western powers.