The myth of national sovereignty

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"Iraq is sovereign" declared Condoleza Rice on 29 June in a note to President Bush when the US coalition officially handed over to the new provisional government of Iraq. "Let freedom reign" was Bush's triumphant note in the margin.

So few words, so many lies!

Iraq's sovereignty is a lie because a central aim of the US invasion was to turn Iraq into a reliable American outpost and thus enable the US to control the strategically vital Gulf region. Whatever happens in the months ahead, America will not relinquish direct military control over all the key decisions of the Iraqi state, and it has plans to maintain a major US force on the ground there for the foreseeable future.

But the direct interference of the US in Iraq's governing apparatus is not the only reason why Iraq's sovereignty is a lie.

National sovereignty is a lie for Iraq because it is a universal lie. In a world dominated by a handful of great imperialist powers, the weaker countries have no choice but to subordinate themselves to the global designs of the stronger. In the end it makes little difference whether this subordination is maintained through economic, political or directly military means. Even second order imperialisms, like France, Britain or Russia, have the greatest difficulty in maintaining an independent course for themselves. During the 'Cold War', there was only room for two superpowers. Today there is only one, the USA; and only Germany can entertain the ambition of becoming a second.

It is also a lie that national sovereignty is a noble aim which serves the cause of human freedom. In a world where all countries are compelled to be imperialist, the struggle for national sovereignty can only be a struggle by each country to defend its interests by gaining the upper hand over its neighbours or rivals. This struggle was the basis for all the wars and genocides of the 20th century. Today this 'war of each against all' is taking the form of an unprecedented number of open military conflicts in South America, the Balkans, the Middle East, Africa, Kashmir, Indonesia... It is threatening to overwhelm humanity in a tide of bloody chaos.

It is also a lie to pretend that national sovereignty means the freedom of the 'people' to control their own destiny. We live in a class-divided society where the decisions that govern the lives of the vast majority of the world's population are taken by a tiny, exploiting minority. This is true in all countries, regardless of whether the political structures in place are 'democratic' or 'dictatorial'.

'Freedom for the people' is a lie because there is no such thing as the people. There are social classes with antagonistic interests. Above all, there is the ruling capitalist class and the exploited working class. The ideology of national independence, national pride, national solidarity is used by the ruling class to prevent workers from seeing that they have the same interests in all countries. It is used to dragoon the exploited into the wars of the exploiters. It is used to prevent the proletariat from recognising that class solidarity, not national solidarity, is the only starting point for building a truly free society.

Those who fight for a free society - revolutionaries, internationalists, communists - denounce the patronising and hypocritical 'sovereignty' offered by the US empire in Iraq. But we do not therefore call on the Iraqi workers to fight for a 'real' independence, to join with the nationalist 'Resistance' against the US and its local gendarmes. The armed conflict going on in Iraq today is not heading in the direction of a new society; it is a product of the extreme decay of this present order; it does nothing to help Iraqi proletarians discover their authentic class identity, but dissolves them in a false national or religious identity and leads them into a fruitless slaughter.

By the same token, we do not ask workers in Britain to demonstrate or vote for independence from the USA or from a German-dominated Europe. We call on them to develop their independence as a class by resisting the attacks of their exploiters, by raising their own demands in the struggle to defend their living standards. Such a movement of resistance begins with the struggle against our own 'national' ruling class and its state; but in the end, if it is to avoid defeat, it will have no choice but to spread across all borders and unite with the struggles of workers in other countries. And if it is to achieve final victory, if it is to save the human race from the madness of capitalism in its death throes, it will have to dismantle the global structure of competing nation states and create a unified human community on the scale of the entire planet.

The day of the nation state is done. Either humanity will live as one, or it will not live at all.

WR, 3/7/04.