Imperialist conflicts: A new step into chaos

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Over the summer there was no pause in the convulsions of the capitalist world. On the contrary, as has often been the case in recent years, the summer period was marked by a brutal aggravation of imperialist conflicts and military barbarism. The bombings of the US embassies in Africa, the US reprisals in Sudan and Afghanistan, the rebellion in the Congo against the new Kabila regime, involving a number of neighbouring states, etc. All these new events can be added to the multitude of armed conflicts that have been devastating the world and highlight the fact that under the reign of capitalism human society is sinking into bloody chaos.

On a number of occasions we have shown in our press that the collapse of the eastern bloc at the end of the 1980s did not result in a "new world order" as announced by the US President of the day, George Bush, but in the greatest chaos in human history. Since the end of the second imperialist butchery, the world had lived under the yoke of two military blocs whose constant confrontations over a period of more than four decades led to more deaths than during the world war itself. However, the division of the world between the two imperialist blocs, while fuelling many local conflicts, obliged the two superpowers to exert a certain discipline in order to keep these conflicts within "acceptable" limits and prevent them degenerating into a general state of chaos.

The collapse of the Eastern bloc, and the resulting disappearance of the opposing bloc, did not bring an end to imperialist antagonisms between capitalist states, on the contrary. The threat of a new world war may have retreated for the time being, since the blocs that might have waged it no longer exist, but, sharpened by the capitalist economy sinking into an insurmountable crisis, rivalries between states have intensified and become increasingly uncontrollable. In 1990, by deliberately provoking the Gulf crisis and the war in which it gave evidence of its enormous military superiority, the USA tried to affirm its authority over the whole planet, and particularly over its former allies in the Cold War. However, the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia saw these allies confronting each other and putting American hegemony into question. Some supported Croatia (Germany), others Serbia (France and Britain), whereas the USA, after first supporting Serbia, ended up supporting Bosnia. This was the beginning of a tendency towards "every man for himself" in which international alliances have become more and more temporary and in which America has found it harder to exert its leadership.

We had the most striking illustration of this situation last winter when the USA had to renounce its military threats against Iraq and accept a solution negotiated by the General Secretary of the UN and supported by a country like France which since the beginning of the 90s has been openly challenging US hegemony (see International Review 93, "A reverse for the US which will raise military tensions"). What has happened over the summer provides further illustration of this tendency towards each for themselves and even of a spectacular acceleration of it.

The war in the Congo

The chaos that now marks the relations between states becomes blindingly obvious when you survey the various conflicts that have shaken the planet recently. For example, in the war that is now going on in the Congo, we can see countries which less than two years ago were giving their support to the offensive waged by Laurent-Desire Kabila against the Mobutu regime, ie Rwanda and Uganda, now fully supporting the rebellion against this same Kabila. More strangely, these countries, which had seen the US as their main ally against the interests of the French bourgeoisie, now find themselves on the same side as the latter, which is giving discrete support to the rebellion against Kabila, considered as an enemy since he overthrew the pro-French Mobutu regime. Still more surprising is the decisive support Angola gave the Kabila regime when it was on the verge of collapse. Kabila, who at the beginning did have Angolan support (notably through the training and equipment of the Katanga gendarmerie) has been allowing the troops of UNIT A, which is at war with the present regime in Luanda, to take refuge and train in Congolese territory. Apparently, Angola has been paying him back for this disloyalty. To further complicate matters, Angola, which just one year ago helped bring about the victory of the Denis Sassou Ngesso clique, supported by France against Pascal Lissouba for control of Congo- Brazzaville, now finds itself in the camp opposing France. Finally, with regard to the USA's efforts to strengthen its grip on Africa, particularly against French interests, we can say that, despite the successes represented by the installation of a "friendly" regime in Rwanda, and above all by the elimination of Mobutu who was supported to the bitter end by France, the Americans are now just treading water. The regime which the world's first power set up in Kinshasa in May 1997 has now succeeded in arraying against itself not only a considerable proportion of the population which had welcomed it with flowers after thirty years of "mobutism", but also a good number of neighbouring countries, and particularly its Ugandan and Rwandan patrons. In the present crisis, American diplomacy has been particularly silent (it has restricted itself to "demanding instantly" that Rwanda should not get involved and should suspend all military aid to the country), while its French adversary, notwithstanding its necessary discretion, has been clearly supporting the rebellion.

In reality, what is so striking about this, in the midst of the chaos engulfing central Africa, is the fact that the various African states are more and more escaping the control of the great powers. During the cold war, Africa was one of the stakes in the rivalry between the two imperialist blocs who dominated the planet. The old colonial powers, and especially France, were given a mandate by the Western bloc to police the continent on the latter's behalf. One by one, the different states which, shortly after independence, had tried to ally with the Russian bloc (for example, Egypt, Algeria, Angola, Mozambique) changed camp and became faithful allies of the American bloc, even before the collapse of its Soviet rival. However, as long as the Eastern bloc, even though weakened, maintained its presence, there existed a fundamental solidarity between the Western powers in their efforts to prevent Russia from regaining its footholds in Africa. It was precisely this solidarity which fell apart as soon as the Russian bloc disintegrated. For the USA, the fact that France still maintained a grip over a good part of the African continent, a grip out of proportion with its economic and above all its military weight on the world arena, became an anomaly, all the more so because France lost no opportunity to challenge American leadership. In this sense, the fundamental element underlying the different conflicts which have ravaged Africa over the last few years has been the growing rivalry between these two former allies, France and the USA, with the latter trying by all possible means to chase the former out of its traditional spheres of influence. The most spectacular concretisation of this American offensive was the overthrow of the Mobutu regime in May 1997, a regime which for decades had been one of the key pieces in France's imperialist strategies in Africa (and in the strategy of the US during the cold war). When he came to power, Kabila took no time in declaring his hostility towards France and his "friendship" towards the USA, which had just put him in power. At this time, behind the rivalries between the different cliques, particularly ethnic ones, which were confronting each other on the ground, the mark of the conflict between France and America was clearly visible, as it had been not long before with the change of regimes in Rwanda and Burundi to the benefit of the pro-American Tutsi factions.

Today it would be difficult to discern the same lines of conflict in the new tragedy which is sweeping the Congo. In fact it appears as if the different states involved in the conflict are essentially playing their own game, independent of the fundamental confrontation between France and the USA which has determined African history in the recent period. Thus Uganda, which was one of the main artisans of Kabila' s victory, is now dreaming of heading up a "Tutsiland" which would regroup Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and the western provinces of Congo. Rwanda, for its part, by participating in the offensive against Kabila, aims at carrying out an "ethnic cleansing" of the Congolese sanctuaries of the Hutu militias, which have been continuing their raids against the Kigali regime. Rwanda also wants to get its hands on the Kivu province (furthermore, one of the leaders of the rebellion, Pascal Tshipata, said on 5th August that it had come about as a result of Kabila breaking his promise to cede Kivu to the Banyamulenge who had supported him against Mobutu).

Neither did Angola's support for Kabila come without strings. In fact this support is more like the rope that supports the hanged man. By ensuring that the survival of the Kabila regime depends on its military aid, Angola is in a position to dictate its terms: banning UNIT A rebels from Congolese territory and the right to pass through Congolese territory to the Cabinda enclave which is geographically cut off from its Angolan owners.

The general tendency towards "every man for himself" which had been expressed more and more by the former allies of the American bloc, and which came out in a striking manner in ex-Yugoslavia, has taken a supplementary step with the Congo conflict; now, countries of the third or fourth rank, like Angola or Uganda are affirming their imperialist ambitions independent of the interests of their "protectors". And it is this same tendency that we could see at work in the bombings of the American embassies on 7th August and the "reprisals" by the US two weeks later.

The bombing of the American embassies and the US reprisals

The detailed preparation, coordination and murderous violence of the August 7th bombings makes it likely that these actions were not carried out by an isolated terrorist group but were supported or even organised by a state. Moreover, immediately after these attacks, the American authorities declared that the war against terrorism would from now on be the leading objective of their policy (an objective forcefully underlined by President Clinton at the UN on 21st September). In reality, and the US government is very clear about this, the target of such declarations is the states which practice or support terrorism. This policy is not new: for a number of years now the US has been pointing the finger at "terrorist states" such as Libya, Syria and Iran. Obviously, there are "terrorist states" which don't rouse the anger of the US: those which support movements which serve its interests (as is the case with Saudi Arabia which has financed the Algerian fundamentalists at war with a regime allied to France). However, if the world's leading power has accorded such importance to this question, this is not just a matter of propaganda for circumstantial interests. The fact that terrorism has today become a means used more and more commonly in imperialist conflicts is an illustration of the chaos developing in the relations between states1, a chaos which is allowing countries of no great importance to argue the toss with the great powers, especially the greatest of them all - a development which can only further undermine its authority.

The two US ripostes to the attacks on its embassies, the cruise missile strikes on a factory in Khartoum and Osama Ben Laden's base in Afghanistan, illustrate in a striking manner the real state of international relations today. In both cases, the world's leading power, in order to reassert its global leadership, has once again resorted to what constitutes its essential strength: its enormous military superiority over everyone else. The American army is the only one that could bring death on such a scale and with such diabolical precision tens of thousands of kilometres away from its own territory, and without taking the slightest risk. This was a warning to any country that might be tempted to lend support to terrorist groups, but also to the Western powers which maintain good relations with such countries. Thus, the destruction of the factory in Sudan, even if the pretext given for it (that it was making chemical weapons) has not stood up well to investigation, did allow the US to hit an Islamic regime which maintains good relations with France.

However, as on other occasions, this recourse to military force proved to be of little use as a means of rallying other countries around the US. To begin with, nearly all the Arab or Muslim countries condemned the strikes. Secondly, the big Western countries, even when they made a show of supporting the action, made known their reservations about the methods used by the US. This is new testimony to the considerable difficulties that the world's most powerful country is having in affirming its leadership: in the absence of another superpower (as was the case when the USSR and its bloc existed), the use of military force does not succeed in consolidating alliances around the US, or in overcoming the chaos it aims to combat. Very often such policies only sharpen the antagonism towards the US and further aggravate the tendency towards every man for himself.

The constant development of this tendency and the difficulties of American leadership appeared clearly with the bombing of Ben Laden's bases in Afghanistan. The question whether he really did order the bombings in Dar es Salaam and Nairobi has not been clarified. However, the fact that the US decided to deploy its cruise missiles against his training bases in Afghanistan shows that the US does consider him to be an enemy. And yet during the time of the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, this same Ben Laden was one of the USA's best allies, and they financed and armed him generously. Even more surprising is the fact that Ben Laden enjoys the protection of the Taliban, for whom US support (with the complicity of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) was a decisive factor in their conquest of Afghan territory. Today, the Taliban and the USA are on opposing sides. But in fact there are several reaSOI1~ that enable us to understand why the US struck this blow against them.

First, the unconditional support hitherto accorded the Taliban by Washington has been an obstacle to the "normalisation" of its relations with the Iranian regime. This process was advanced in a spectacular manner with the friendly exchanges between the US and Iranian football teams in the last World Cup. However, in their diplomacy towards Iran, the US has lagged behind countries like France, which at that very same moment was sending its minister of foreign affairs to Tehran. For America it was important not to miss the opportunities afforded by the warming of its relations with Iran and not to allow other countries to pull the carpet from under its feet.

But the blow against the Taliban was also a warning against the latter's temptations to take their distance from Washington now that their almost complete victory on the home front has made them less dependent on American aid. In other words, the world's leading power wants to avoid what happened with Ben Laden happening on a bigger scale with the Taliban - its former friends becoming enemies. But in this case as in many others, there is no guarantee that the US coup will pay off. Every man for himself and the chaos it leads to cannot be counter-acted by the world cop resorting to force. These phenomena are an integral part of the current historical phase of capitalist decomposition and they are insurmountable.

Furthermore, the basic inability of the US to resolve this situation is having its repercussions in the internal life of its bourgeoisie. Behind the crisis facing the US administration over "Monicagate", there are probably internal political causes. Also, this scandal, which has been covered so systematically by the media being used to divert the workers' attention from a worsening economic situation and the growing attacks of the bosses, a need demonstrated by the rise of working class militancy (strikes at General Motors, American Airline, etc). There again, the surreal aspect of the trials of Clinton is further witness to the fact mat bourgeois society is rotting on its feet, However, such an offensive against an American president, which could lead to his downfall, reveals above all the malaise of the bourgeoisie of the world's most powerful country which is incapable of imposing i leadership on me planet.

This said, the problems of Clinton and even of me whole American bourgeoisie are only a minor aspect of me drama now being out on a world scale. For a growing number of human beings, and today this is particularly me case in me Congo, the chaos that keeps on growing all over the world is synonymous with massacres, famines, epidemic and barbarism. A barbarism which took a new step forward in the summer and which will continue LO get worse as long as capitalism has not been overthrown.

Fabienne

1 In the article 'Faced with the slide into barbarism the necessity and possibility of the revolution' in International Review 48, first quarter of 1987, we already showed that terrorist attacks like the ones in Paris in 1986 were one of the manifestations of capitalism's entrance into a new phase in its decadence, the phase of decomposition. Since then, all the convulsions which have shaken the planet, particularly the collapse of the Russian imperialist bloc at the end of the 80s have abundantly illustrated capitalism's continuing descent into decomposition.