Capitalist society is sinking into the barbarism of war

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The re-election of George Bush in the USA has led many commentators, especially in Europe, to warn about the danger of new military adventures by the US superpower. And it's quite true that while the ruins of Fallujah are still smoking, the mouthpieces of the Bush administration are already making threatening noises about Iran. The replacement of the 'moderate' Colin Powell as Secretary of State by the 'hawk' Condoleeza Rice is another indication that the US war machine is going to grind forward remorselessly in the period ahead.

We are also told, usually by the same commentators, that if only Kerry had won the election, the world would be a much safer place, and that there would be some hope of healing the rift between the USA and its former allies in Europe. This is not true.

The ultra-aggressive policies of the US state today are not the product of one man or a particular administration. Bush's attack on Afghanistan, for example, was prepared by Clinton's Democratic administration, which only two years before had rained bombs on Serbia. Kerry had no criticisms of these imperialist onslaughts and claimed only that he would be better at waging the war on terrorism than Bush. Neither did his election campaign offer any alternative to the current US policy in Iraq.

Had Kerry been elected, his rhetoric would have been a little different. He may have dealt with the UN or the European powers less crudely than Bush. He may have used different pretexts for defending US interests, replacing Bush's overt use of religious imagery with appeals to 'humanitarian' causes. This is why substantial sectors of the US bourgeoisie would have preferred Kerry to Bush. The final result is the same because US imperialism has no alternative but to throw its weight about on the world arena.

The USA's imperialist offensive

This is not because America is a particularly 'evil' empire. It is simply the world's leading empire, and it is compelled to defend its dominant world position against the challenge from other empires, other imperialist powers. For over forty years it confronted a second superpower, the USSR, for control of the world. The collapse of its opponent in 1989 led some to proclaim the End of History and a New World Order of peace and prosperity. Instead we have had a world of growing instability marked by endless and increasingly chaotic wars. Released from their fear of the Russian bear, the USA's former allies - France, Germany, Japan, the UK - immediately began to assert their own imperialist interests against their former master. The US responded with its first major demonstration of power in the new situation: the Gulf War of 1991, which was aimed not so much at Saddam Hussein but at America's great power rivals, who were forced to march behind it. But they didn't stay in line for long. Within a year German imperialism's eastward push had provoked the Balkans war and to this day the US has not succeeded in maintaining a firm foothold in this region. And while Germany and France were press-ganged into supporting the 1991 attack on Iraq, by 2003 they were openly opposing the second one, along with Russia and numerous other states.

In sum: faced with a growing challenge to its authority, the US has again and again resorted to its military might to reimpose it. But each time it has only magnified its problems by provoking further hostility and resistance to its domination. And no faction of the American ruling class has an alternative to this increasingly irrational spiral.

Iraq is the world

The present situation in Iraq symbolises the impasse facing the US. Following 9/11 (carried out in all likelihood with the complicity of the American state), the USA stepped up its global offensive, aiming not only at full control of the Middle East with its huge oil reserves, but also at encircling its imperialist rivals in Europe and Russia. But far from achieving what the neo-con theorists call 'Full Spectrum Dominance', the US has plunged Iraq into chaos. Far from laying the bases for a stable Middle Eastern democracy, the US invasion has turned Iraq into a theatre for international terrorism, where each military 'victory' (such as the flattening of Fallujah) only serves to deepen the USA's political discredit and recruit more 'martyrs' to the anti-US jihad. Not only is it now questionable whether the January 30 elections will take place; whether they do or don't, there is now a real danger that Iraq will start to disintegrate as various bourgeois gangs - Shia, Sunni, pro-and anti-US, Kurdish nationalists, etc - battle for control of their respective spheres of influence. And having reduced Iraq to the status of 'failed state', US imperialism's answer is to debate where the next Iraq will be: Iran, Sudan, North Korea....?

Capitalism is war

All this is increasingly obvious and America's rivals don't miss a chance to whip up anti-American prejudices, blaming the slide into war on the USA and presenting themselves as lovers of peace and international cooperation. These are also lies, as a brief recall of the events of the last decade will soon establish: France stood behind the Rwanda genocide of 1994 and is now being pulled into a quagmire of its own on the Ivory Coast; Germany sparked off the Balkans war by backing the separatist claims of Croatia and Slovenia; Russia is conducting a murderous war in Chechnya and has ambitions to control all the countries of the former USSR, such as Georgia and Ukraine. As for Britain, it supports the USA in the Gulf, but opposes it in the Balkans and in Ireland, and no less than the other great powers, it acts only to defend its sordid imperialist interests (see the report on British imperialism, also in this issue).

The problem facing humanity is not George Bush, nor US imperialism on its own. The problem is a social system that has outlived its usefulness to humanity, and which, in its senility, has nothing to offer but growing military competition and war. Two world wars, the Cold War, the 'war of each against all' which followed the break-up of the eastern and western blocs - this catalogue of destruction cannot be blamed on particular countries, still less on this or that 'madman' in power. It would be much more accurate to say that the entire social system has become mad. In its youth, capitalism made use of wars to spread the profit system across the world; in its period of dementia, war has become an end in itself, bringing not profits but economic ruin and the potential destruction of humanity.

The alternative is revolution

But humanity, as Marx said, does not pose itself problems which it cannot solve. There is an alternative to capitalism: a communist society founded on solidarity, not exploitation. There is an alternative to war: a world commune without national frontiers. And there is a social force which has an objective interest in creating such a world: the exploited class in capitalism, the proletariat.

Capitalism today is providing a mounting body of evidence that it is historically bankrupt, whether through the economic crisis which leads it to attack proletarian living standards, or through the march to war which demands the ultimate sacrifice from the exploited. The more the evidence piles up in the eyes of those who are the principal victims of capitalism's decline, the more the possibility grows of a conscious revolt against the very logic of this system.

Faced with the collapse of this system, with the barbarism of war, the proletariat in every country will need to rediscover the methods of struggle that halted the first imperialist world war and terrified the bourgeoisie with the threat of world revolution: the mass strike, the workers' councils, the formation of a world communist party. We still have a very long way to go before this can take place, but the signs are that workers in many countries are more and more willing to return to the struggle in defence of their living standards; and this is the only starting point for a struggle that, in the future, will have to confront the ruling class in every country of the world.

WR, 4/12/04.
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