Only the class struggle can end capitalist wars

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Since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 there has been no let up in the effects of the conflict on the local population, caught between invading western armies, feuding warlords and the Taliban. While the media fawn on ‘our hero' Prince Harry, leading US generals admit that the mission is on the verge of failure, claiming that Karzai's Kabul government only controls 30% of the country.

Equally, on the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq you can look back and see an endless procession of atrocities, whether by the occupying forces or the insurgent ‘Resistance'. Despite the US government's claim that the ‘surge is working', the numbers of Iraqis meeting violent deaths has again started to rise, with at least 633 civilians dying in February alone. And death comes not only though the aerial, car and suicide bombardments that indiscriminately leave their victims strewn across the landscape, but the collapse of the infrastructure and the threat of diseases like cholera.

Having stirred up these hornets' nests in Afghanistan and Iraq, the current US administration seems hell-bent to spread the chaos and destruction even further, as it continues to rattle sabres at Iran. And this is in turn related to the fact that Iran has itself been trying to assert its own regional imperialist interests, particularly through its support for Shia factions in Iraq.

In fact the entire region from the Mediterranean to India is an actual or potential war-zone. The Israeli blockade of Gaza has deprived the population of absolutely basic necessities while civilians continue to be the main victims of Israeli bombardments and Hamas rocket attacks. To the north, Lebanon is still a powder-keg and Turkey is conducting another armed incursion into Iraq in pursuit of the PKK.

Further east, the instability in Pakistan, the possessor of nuclear weaponry, together with the increasing intervention of China and the US in the area, holds the possibility of a precarious situation tipping into catastrophe.

Everywhere you look capitalism's wars continue or, where there is ‘peace', threaten to flare up at a moment's notice. In Europe the ‘independence' of Kosovo brings with it the possibility of re-igniting conflict in the Balkans. In Africa the massacres in Kenya (that ‘haven of peace') take their place alongside Darfur, Chad, Congo and so many other places that could soon be joined by renewed wars between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The drive to war is inherent in capitalism

The organisers of the 15 March demonstrations describe them as "a global day of protest against Bush's wars". But Bush, whatever his faults, is not uniquely responsible for all the conflicts in the world. His predecessor Bill Clinton didn't hesitate to bomb Serbia. Among his potential successors Hillary Clinton supported the initial attack on Iraq and Barack Obama has said "I will not hesitate to act against those that would do America harm. Now, that involves maintaining the strongest military on earth..." And in Britain since 1997 Blair and Brown have shown themselves far greater warmongers than Thatcher and Major were in the 18 years of Conservative rule.

It's not because of dodgy individuals, or even particular states, no matter how powerful, that the planet is plagued with military conflict. It's because we live in the historic period of capitalist decline that war has become inherent to the way every nation functions. Every country is compelled to fight for its position, not just economically, but with force of arms in the cockpit of imperialist conflict. This applies just as much to the newest ‘independent' countries such as Kosovo, East Timor and Eritrea as it does to the big powers such as America, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and Japan. Militarism is a condition of contemporary capitalism regardless of the hopes and desires of the individuals in the ruling class.

It was the First World War that definitively confirmed that, because the great capitalist powers had divided up the world market, all each capitalist state could do was fight for its re-division in their favour.

The First World War was not the ‘war to end all wars'. The Second World War mobilised and massacred even more millions under the ideological banners of fascism or democracy, and led to a world redivided between American and Russian imperialist blocs. The period of Cold War was not one of peace but of scores of local wars, most of them as much proxy battles between greater powers as between the participants on the ground. Meanwhile both blocs coldly developed the technology for Mutually Assured Destruction, the ultimate no-win situation.

And when the Russian bloc fell apart, which meant that there was no way that the US could maintain the discipline of its ‘allies', it unleashed the period in which we are still living: that of ‘everyone for themselves'. Alliances have become less stable and conflicts more chaotic, and the threat of nuclear war is in many ways even more acute than it was in the Cold war period.

War has become integral to the way that capitalism functions. The weakest countries fight for their very existence. The strongest countries try to consolidate and reinforce their position. Imperialism is not a sin restricted to a few powerful states but has become a way of operating essential to all capitalist regimes, down to the smallest proto-state or nationalist gang.

The working class holds the key

But, just as the drive to war is fundamental for capitalism, so is the existence of the working class, the class whose exploitation is at the heart of capitalist production. The working class is the only force with the capacity to take on the capitalist system that gives rise to war. The clearest demonstration of this was the end of the First World War. It was the weight of workers' strikes, soldiers' mutinies and revolutions in Russia and Germany which brought the Great War to a finish. The working class had had enough of the slaughter and started struggling for its own interests, which do not correspond to those of the capitalist war machine.

Internationally, in the late 1960s, in the 70s and 80s, you didn't have to look far to see expressions of the class struggle. Indeed it was the resistance of the working class which made it impossible for the two imperialist blocs to mobilise their respective populations for world war during that period. During the 1990s there was disorientation in the working class and a very low level of struggles. But in recent years we have begun to see the re-emergence of the class struggle. Whatever the immediate reasons for workers' struggles, the defence of our own interests, the self-organisation and extension of our struggles, and the development of relations of solidarity, all lay the basis for creating a force that can finally put and end to capitalism and its war machine. WR 29/2/8

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