The international situation: A turning point

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From Somalia to Angola, from Venezuela to Yugoslavia, from famines to massacres, coups d'états to 'civil wars', the whirlwind of decomposing capitalist society can only create havoc. Not only do the promises of prosperity and liberty remain unrealized everywhere, but capitalism has put everything to the fire and the sword, unleashing militarism, reducing the immense majority of the world's population to destitution, poverty and death, and massively attacking the living conditions of the proletariat in the great urban and industrialized centers.

Chaos, lies and imperialist war

Even the most ardent defenders of the existing order are more and more forced to recognize that the 'new world order' is nothing other than generalized chaos. However, unable to hide the deterioration in every country of all the political, economic and social aspects of life, the newspapers, radio, television - mouthpieces of the dominant class - still compete to hide reality. Political scandals, ethnic genocide, deportations, pogroms and catastrophes of all kinds, epidemics and famines, it's all there. But instead of being explained for what they are, ie, at root, the consequence of the world crisis of capitalism[1], events are always presented as a sort of inevitability.

In showing the famine in Somalia, the massacres of 'ethnic cleansing' in Yugoslavia, the deportations and martyring of populations in the southern republics of the ex-USSR, or the political scandals, the propaganda recognizes how rotten things have become. But it does so by presenting phenomena without any link between them, thus distilling a sense of impotence, preventing the awareness that it is the capitalist mode of production as a whole which is responsible for the situation, and that in the front rank of the guilty are the bourgeoisies of the big capitalist countries.

Decomposition, which permeates all areas of society, is not an inevitability. It is the result of a blockage at the heart of society: an open, general world economic crisis of more than 25 years duration, and the absence of a perspective of emerging from it. The great powers, which with the end of Stalinism claimed that a period of peace and prosperity was opening up for capitalism, are locked in a war of each against all, which exacerbates social disintegration, on both the domestic and the international level.

Within the industrialized countries, the national bourgeoisies attempt to contain the manifestations of decomposition while using them to reinforce the authority of the state[2]. This is what the American bourgeoisie was doing at the time of the Los Angeles riots in the spring of 1992; it even controlled the time and extension of the riots[3]. It is what the German bourgeoisie has been doing since the autumn by developing an enormous campaign on 'immigrant bashing' . It controls and sometimes covertly provokes the events in order to pass measures reinforcing immigration controls - in order to do its own 'immigrant bashing'. It then tries to enroll the population in general, and the working class in particular, into the policy of the state, by the orchestration of demonstrations in defense of democracy ...

On the international level, the industrialized countries are less and less allies since the break-up of the western bloc discipline which had been imposed on them faced with the Russian imperialist bloc; this trend has been reinforced by the acceleration of the crisis, which is now hitting at the heart of the world economy. They are locked in a desperate confrontation between rival capitalist and imperialist interests. They are not going toward peace but are aggravating military tensions.

Somalia: a prelude to more difficult interventions

For more than a year and a half Germany has thrown oil on the Yugoslavian fire, breaking the status quo which assured American control of the Mediterranean, by its support for the constitution of an independent Slovenia and Croatia. The United States has tried, since the beginning of the conflict, to resist the extension of a zone of influence dominated by Germany. After their veiled support for Serbia, with the sabotage of European initiatives aimed at weakening its hegemony, the United States has moved into a higher gear. American military intervention will not bring peace to Somalia, nor will it alleviate the famine which has ravaged this country as well as others in the most destitute region of the world. Somalia is only the soil on which the United States is preparing military operations of a much wider scope, directed against the great powers liable to dispute its supremacy on the world arena, the first of which is Germany.

The 'humanitarian action' of the great powers is only another pretext serving to "mask the sordid imperialist interests which guide their actions and for which they attack each other ... and to hide their own responsibility for the present barbarism behind a smokescreen and to justify new escalations"[4].

The intervention of the US armed force in Somalia has nothing to do with the poverty, famine and massacres which blight this country, just as the Gulf War two years ago had nothing to do with the plight of the local populations. The situation of the latter has only worsened since this first victory of the 'new world order'.

The discipline which had been imposed on all concerned by the coalition under the American boot in the Gulf War has crumbled these past two years. The USA has had trouble in maintaining its 'world order', which has turned more and more into open disorder. Hemmed in by the weakening and bankruptcy of entire sectors of its economy, the American bourgeoisie needs a new offensive to reimpose its military superiority and thus to be able to impose its diktats over its old allies.

The first phase of this offensive consisted of dealing a blow to the pretensions of French imperialism: imposing US control in the Somalian operation, and consigning a walk-on part to the French military forces to Djibouti, without giving them any real role in Mogadishu. But this first phase is only a preparatory one for an intervention in ex-Yugoslavia, in Bosnia, which must be massive in order to be effective. The Chiefs of Staff of the American army, notably Colin Powell, one of the leaders of the Gulf War, already said this in the summer of 1992[5]. Because while the Horn of Africa does constitute, through its geographic position, a strategic zone of considerable interest, the size of the US operation[6] and all the media publicity around it serve above all to justify and prepare more important operations in the Balkans, in Europe: the prize in the imperialist stakes, as has been shown by two world wars.

The aim of the USA is not to smother Somalia under a carpet of bombs as it did Iraq[7], although it will certainly do nothing to stop the massacres or the famine in the region. The objective is first to try and establish an image of a clean war, in order to obtain the necessary adhesion of the population to difficult, costly and lengthy interventions. It also aims to give a warning to the French bourgeoisie; and behind it the German and Japanese bourgeoisies, of the determination of the US to maintain its leadership. Planned well in advance, it serves, finally, like all action to 'maintain order', to reinforce war preparations in the event of American military action in Europe.

The Franco-German alliance was not mistaken when its spokesman Delors demanded the increase in the participation of troops of the European countries in Yugoslavia. Not in order to establish peace as it pretended, but to be militarily present on the ground faced with the initiative of the US. Germany, for the first time since the Second World War, is sending 1500 troops outside of its frontiers. Under cover of protecting life in Somalia it is the first step towards a direct participation in the conflicts. And it is a message to the US about Germany's intention to be militarily present on the battlefield in ex-Yugoslavia, It is a new step which will go beyond this confrontation, particularly on the military level, but also in all aspects of capitalist politics. The election of Clinton in the US, while it does not modify the essential strategy of the US bourgeoisie, is a sign of the turning point in the world situation.

Clinton: a more muscular policy

In 1991, some months after the victory of Desert Storm, despite a fall in popularity linked to the worsening of the crisis in the USA, it seemed Bush would be re-elected easily. Clinton finally won because, little by little, he received support from significant fractions of the American bourgeoisie. This was shown, amongst other ways, by the support of influential organs of the press; then by the deliberate sabotage of the Bush campaign by Perot. The latter, who at first tried to rally support to the Republican party, later reemerged to directly confront Bush. With the revelation of the Iraqgate scandal[8], then the accusation against Bush, in front of tens of millions of viewers, that he encouraged Iraq to invade Kuwait, the American bourgeoisie effectively showed the door to the victor of Desert Storm, The relatively comfortable victory of Clinton over Bush showed that the desire for change was felt by a majority of the American bourgeoisie.

In the first place, faced with the catastrophe on the economic level, a majority of the US bourgeoisie resolved, after several hesitations, to shelve its ideology of liberalism. The latter had proven powerless to prevent the economic decline, and worse, was seen as being responsible for it. Since the open recession of 1991, the bourgeoisie has been obliged to recognize the bankruptcy of ultra-liberalism, which cannot justify the growing intervention of the state necessary to preserve what's left of the productive and financial apparatus. Most of the bourgeoisie rallied to the propaganda of 'more state' promised by Clinton, which accords better with reality than the language of Bush, who remained in continuity with 'Reaganomics'[9].

In the second place the Bush administration could not maintain the initiative of the US on the world arena. At the time of the Gulf War it could depend on the unanimous support of the American bourgeoisie, based on its undisputed role of world military superpower, which it clearly displayed through this war. But subsequently it began to run out of steam and could no longer find such spectacular and effective ways of imposing itself on the potential rivals of the USA.

In Yugoslavia, when the US envisaged an aerial intervention in Bosnia in the summer of 1992, the Europeans put a spoke in the wheel. The surprise trip of Mitterand to Sarajevo cut short the humanitarian propaganda preparing the bombardments. Moreover the imbroglio of the armed factions and the geography of the terrain made any military operation much more dangerous because it lessened the efficacy of the airforce, the central piece of the American army. The Bush administration was not able to deploy the necessary means. Even if a new action in Iraq took place with the neutralization of part of its airspace, it did not give the opportunity for a new demonstration of force. This time Saddam Hussein did not respond to the provocation.

Bush, in losing the elections, thus served as the symbol of the reverse of United States policy on the economic level as well as on the level of world military leadership. By being seen as responsible he rendered a last service to his class, hiding the fact that there could not be any other policy and that it is the system itself which is definitively rotten. Moreover the bourgeoisie faces a public opinion disenchanted with the disastrous economic and social results since the 1980s and skeptical about the 'new world order'. The alternation of Clinton after twelve years of the Republican party gives a dose of oxygen to the credibility of American democracy.

As far as stepping up military interventions is concerned, the bourgeoisie can have full confidence in the Democratic Party. The latter has a proven experience like the Republican Party, since it has governed the country before and during the second world war, led the Vietnam War, and relaunched the policy of militarization under Carter at the end of the 1970s.

With Clinton, the bourgeoisie is trying to turn the situation around, as regards both the economic crisis and the task of maintaining its world leadership on the imperialist level faced with the tendency for the constitution of a rival bloc led by Germany.

The abortion of Europe 1993

Before the collapse of the eastern bloc, various agreements and institutions guaranteed a certain degree of unity between the different countries of Europe. These countries took shelter under the American umbrella because they had a common interest faced with the menace of the Russian imperialist bloc. With the disappearance of this threat European unity has lost its cement and the famous 'Europe 1993' is about to abort.

In place of the monetary and economic union towards which the Maastricht Treaty constituted a decisive step, regrouping all the countries of the European Economic Community with others to follow, we now see a two-speed Europe. On the one hand the alliance of Germany with France, which is attempting to integrate Spain, Belgium and to some extent Italy, is pushing to take measures which confront American and Japanese competition and tries to combat American supremacy on the military level[10]. On the other hand countries like Britain and Holland, which resist the growing power of Germany in Europe and, allied to the US, are determined to oppose by all means the emergence of a rival bloc.

The conferences at European summits, parliamentary ratifications and referendums do not show greater unity or a greater harmony between the national bourgeoisies of the different European countries. There is an increasing row engendered by the necessity to choose between an alliance with the US, which remains the first world power, and one with its challenger Germany. The whole situation is propelled by an unprecedented economic crisis, and a social decomposition which is beginning to make its disastrous consequences felt at the heart of the industrialized countries. And if this row gives the appearance of a game between democracies concerned to find a common ground, the bloody war in ex-Yugoslavia, fed by the confrontation between the great powers behind the rivalries between the new independent states[11] gives the lie to the idea of unity between the great democracies and shows the barbarism which they are capable of when it comes to defending their imperialist interests[12]. Not only does the war continue in Bosnia, but it risks spreading to Kosovo and Macedonia where the population will also be swept into the whirlwind of barbarism.

If Europe is at the heart of conflicts between the principal powers and holds a central place in the tendency towards the formation of a German bloc, and if ex-Yugoslavia is the European military laboratory, it is the entire planet which is the theatre of tensions between the new imperialist poles, tensions which are helping to aggravate the armed conflicts in the third world and the ex-Russian bloc.

The increase of local conflicts

With the collapse of the old world order, the old local conflicts have not only continued, as in Afghanistan or Kurdistan. New conflicts, new civil wars arise between local fractions of the bourgeoisie previously obliged to collaborate for the same national interests. But the eruption of new areas of tension is never limited to the strictly local situation itself. All conflicts immediately draw fractions of the bourgeoisie from neighboring countries into their orbit, in the name of ethnic differences, contentious frontiers, religious quarrels, the danger of disorder and all the other pretexts. From the smallest local warlord to the great powers, all are pushed to throw themselves into the spiral of armed confrontation. No matter whether the war is civil or local it inevitability leads to a confrontation between the great imperialist powers.

Not all tensions are linked to the interests of the great powers from the beginning. But the latter, by the logic of imperialist war, always finish by joining the melee in order to prevent their competitors from doing it, and as a weapon in the general balance of forces.

Thus the United States intervenes in or follows closely the local situations which may serve its interests against potential rivals. In Africa, in Liberia, the war between rival gangs has today become the spearhead of the US offensive to evict the French presence from its hunting grounds in Mauritania, Senegal, and the Ivory Coast. In South America the US observed a kindly neutrality at the time of the Venezuelan coup d'état, looking to reverse Carlos Andres Perez, friend of Mitterand and of Willy Brandt, member of the Socialist International, and favorable to the maintenance of French, Spanish, as well as German interests. In Asia the US is closely interested in the pro-Chinese policy of the Khmer Rouge in order to keep China within its orbit, especially considering Beijing's opening to Japan.

The great powers are equally led to immerse themselves in the confrontations between regional sub-imperialisms which by their geographic situation, their dimension, and the nuclear arms they possess, weigh dangerously on the world imperialist balance of forces. Such is the case in the Indian sub-continent, where a catastrophic situation reigns, provoking all sorts of rivalries in each country between factions of the bourgeoisie, as testified by the recent massacres of Muslims in India. These rivalries are exacerbated by the confrontation between India and Pakistan, Pakistan supporting the Muslims in India, India fomenting the revolts against the Pakistani government in Kashmir. The putting into question of old international alliances, India with the USSR, Pakistan with China and the USA, does not calm the conflicts but risks worsening them.

The great powers are also sucked into new conflicts that initially they neither support nor foment. In the territory of the ex-USSR the tensions between republics continues to develop. Each republic is confronted with national minorities which proclaim independence, form militias, receiving the open or disguised support of other republics: the Armenians of Azerbaidjan, the Chechenes of Russia, the Russians in Moldavia and the Ukraine, the factions in the civil war in Georgia, etc. The great powers shrink from immersing themselves in the chaos of these local situations. But the fact that secondary powers like Turkey, Iran, Pakistan have their sights on these parts of the old USSR, and that today Russia itself is more and more tom apart by the struggle of conservatives against reformers, opens the way to the enlargement of the conflicts.

Decomposition intensifies the contradictions, engenders new rivalries and conflicts. All factions of the bourgeoisie, from the smallest to the largest, can only respond with militarism and wars.

War and crisis

The capitalist regimes of the Stalinist type have collapsed. Coming from the counter-revolution of the 20s and 30s in Russia, they installed a rigid and totally militarized form of capitalism. Bureaucrats of yesterday have spruced up their old nationalism with the phraseology of independence and democracy, but they have nothing more to offer than corruption, gangsterism and war. It is now the turn of the western capitalist regimes, which claimed that their economic superiority testified to the victory of capitalism. They now find themselves locked into the collapse of the system: slowing down of their economies, drastic purge of their profits, unemployment of tens of millions of workers and employees, unceasing and growing degradation of the conditions of work, housing, health, education and security.

But in these countries, unlike those of the third world or the ex-eastern bloc, the working class is not ready to submit without reacting to the dramatic consequences of this collapse of its living conditions. This was shown by the powerful anger of the working class in Italy in the autumn of 1992.

Towards a resurgence of working class struggles

After three years of passivity, demonstrations, stoppages, and strikes by hundreds of thousands of Italian workers and employees in the autumn of 1992, constituted the first signs of a change of considerable importance.

Faced with the most brutal attacks since the Second World War, the working class in Italy has responded. This movement reminds us not only that the economic crisis puts all the workers in the same boat by attacking everywhere its conditions of existence; above all it shows that, beyond the divisions that capitalism imposes, the working class constitutes the only social force which can oppose the consequences of this crisis. The workers' initiatives, the strikes, the massive participation in demonstrations of protest against the government's austerity plan, and the discontent against the official unions which support this plan, have shown that the proletariat's fighting spirit is still intact. Even if the bourgeoisie kept the initiative, and even if the initial massive movement was subsequently curtailed, a gain remains from these first important struggles of the proletariat in an industrialized country since 1989: the return of class combativity.

The events in Italy mark a stage for the working class in resuming the struggle on the common ground of resistance to the capitalist crisis, in developing confidence in its capacity to respond to the attacks of capitalism and to open up a perspective.

The black-out of information on the events in Italy, contrary to the publicity given to the steel workers' strikes, the transport strikes, and the public sector strikes contained within the great union maneuvers in Germany in the spring of 1992[13], is testimony to the fact that there was a real thrust from the workers in the movement in Italy. When the German bourgeoisie acted to stifle any workers' initiative in the previous year, its operation had the blessings of the medias of the international bourgeoisie. In the autumn of 1992 the Italian bourgeoisie got its support through the black -out, since the international bourgeoisie expected and feared that the reaction of the Italian workers to the austerity measures would not be limited to the Italian state.

However, the Italian movement was only the first step toward the resurgence of international class struggle. Italy is the country of the world where the proletariat has the greatest experience of class struggle and the greatest distrust of the unions; this is far from being the case in the other European countries. On this level the workers' reactions elsewhere in Europe and the US did not immediately take on the radical and massive character of those in Italy.

Moreover, in Italy itself, the movement was limited. On the one hand, the massive rejection of the big unions by the majority of the workers in this movement has shown that despite the break of the last three years the long experience of the working class in confrontation with unionism has not been lost. But on the other hand the bourgeoisie also expected this rejection. The bourgeoisie played on it to focus workers' anger on spectacular actions against the union leaders to the detriment of a large-scale reaction against the measures and against the whole of the state apparatus and all the union appendages.

Instead of taking the struggle in hand in the general assemblies where the workers can decide collectively on the objectives and means of their struggle, the radical organs of base unionism organized the stifling of the discontent. By throwing bolts and stones at the heads of the union leaders they maintained the trap of the false opposition between base and official unionism, sowing disarray and putting a brake on the massive and unified mobilization which alone can develop an effective response to the state's attacks.

The workers' struggles in Italy thus mark a recovery of combativity but they did not escape the difficulties which await the working class everywhere: most importantly, the difficulties in going beyond unionism, both official and unofficial, and corporatism.

The atmosphere of disorientation and confusion spread throughout the working class by the ideological campaigns on the bankruptcy of communism, the end of marxism and the end of class struggle is still a weight, and combativity is only the first condition for emerging from this atmosphere. The working class must also become conscious that its struggle must put into question capitalism as a world system, as the bearer of poverty, war and destruction.

Today, the passivity instilled by triumphant capitalism's promises of peace has begun to crumble. Desert Storm helped to uncover this lie of peace.

The participation of the great democratic countries in the wars in Somalia and ex-Yugoslavia is less clearly a demystification, since they pretend to be intervening to protect populations and give them food. But the cascade of attacks on the living conditions of the working class will create an ambiance where the humanitarian pretexts will start to war thin. Workers will start to question the humanitarian alibis for sending troops and the most costly, sophisticated and deadly armaments. They will begin to see that the real dirty work of the democratic armies is of the same ilk as that of all the gangs, militias and armies that they pretend to combat.

As for the promise of prosperity, catastrophe is everywhere. The unprecedented acceleration of the economic crisis is in the process of exposing the last refuges where the conditions of life have been relatively spared, countries like Germany, Sweden, or Switzerland. The massive unemployment spreading now in the highly skilled sectors which were the least affected until now, will add tens of millions to those already unemployed in areas of the world where the proletariat is most numerous and most concentrated.

The reawakening of the class struggle in Italy in autumn 1992 has signaled the revival of workers' combativity. The development of the crisis, and the increasingly omnipresent militarism in the social climate of the industrialized countries, are going to contribute to important struggles in the future. These struggles will provide the basis for the working class becoming aware of the need to reinforce its unity and, with the aid of its revolutionary organizations, to rediscover the authentic perspective of communism.



[1] See the article on the economic crisis in this issue.  

[2] The bourgeoisie has tried to forestall decomposition which disturbs its social order. But it is a class which is totally incapable of eradicating the ultimate cause, since it is its own system of exploitation and of profit which is at the root of the latter. It can only saw off the branch on which it is sitting.

[3] See International Review no 71

[4] See International Review no 71. And as Liberation of 9.12.92 mentioned:

"Thus under an anonymous cover a very high functionary of the UN in Somalia (Onusom) has spoken his real thoughts: 'The American intervention stinks of arrogance. They consulted no one. The intervention was prepared long beforehand, humanity serving a pretext. In fact they are testing here, like a vaccine on an animal, their doctrine for resolving future local conflicts. Now this operation will cost by their own estimates between $400m-$600m in its first phase. For half of this sum, without a single soldier, I could return Somalia to stable prosperity. '"

[5] Colin Powell pronounced himself against intervention in Yugoslavia in September 1992.

[6] According to sources close to Boutros Ghali, secretary of the UN, the needs of intervention to provide food would require 5000 men. The USA sent 30,000...   

[7] Close to 500,000 wounded and dead under the bombing.

[8] This scandal so named by its analogy with Watergate which brought Nixon' down, and then Irangate which rocked Reagan, reveals the importance of the financial aid given to the USA to Iraq through the intermediary of an Italian bank in the course of the year preceding the Gulf War. Aid used by this country to develop its research and infrastructure for creating atomic weapons ...

[9] See the article on the crisis in this issue.

[10] See the constitution of a Franco-German army corps as well as the project for an Italo-Franco-Spanish aero-naval force.

[11] On the war in Yugoslavia and the responsibility of the great powers see International Review nos 70 and 71.

[12] As for the economic agreements they are nothing to do with a real cooperation or agreement between national bourgeoisies, but economic competition does not mechanically engender political and military divergences. Before the breakup of the eastern bloc the US and Germany were very serious competitors on the economic terrain, which did not prevent them, being totally allied on the political and military level. The USSR has never been a serious rival of the US on the economic level, but their military rivalry nevertheless threatened the destruction of the planet for forty years. Today Germany can very well pass agreements with Great Britain, on the economic level in the framework of Europe, sometimes to the detriment of French interests. But that does not prevent Great Britain and Germany finding themselves in complete opposition on the political and military level, while France and Germany follow the same policy.

[13] See International Review no 70.