Middle East: the barbarity of imperialism

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The propaganda barrage about the killings tin the Palestinian camps of' Sabra and Chatila in West Beirut -- both the propaganda and the killings being the work of the western bourgeoisie -- is yet another reminder that the survival of the laws of capitalism is leading the world into barbarism. This deluge of' blood and iron (which descended on men, women and children for three days), highlighted for reasons of propaganda, is one more massacre in the death-throes of a system which daily piles up its victims through industrial accidents and ‘natural' disasters, through repression and war.

Since the beginning of this century the Middle East has been a battle-field for the major powers, a favorite war-zone for capitalism. Since the Second World War it has been fought over by the two great imperialist blocs of' America and Russia. Today the western bloc is pushing its rival out of the Middle East and strengthening its grip on the region. Its aim is to turn the region into a military bastion against the Russian bloc. The ‘Pax Americana' is a culmin­ating point in the strategy of eliminating any significant Russian presence and consolidating the position of the USA -- partly in order to compensate for and counteract the destabilization of' Iran, and respond to the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. The Israeli invasion of the Lebanon in the summer of 1982, and the installation of American, French and Italian troops, is all part of this strategy. It's the local populations who pay the price of this bloody game.

Why has the western bourgeoisie made so much noise about the massacre in the Palestinian camps

In Lebanon itself', this kind of thing has often happened, and on both sides. Other, similar massacres in the world haven't been ‘favored' in the same way. The propaganda about this one has a dual aspect: on the one hand, it clearly demonstrates the impossibility of appealing to the other bloc for help and this sanctifies the victory of the west. On the other hand, it is a continuation of the bourgeoisie's ideological campaigns around themes which inculcate a feel­ing of' powerlessness and terror (such as pacif­ism, anti-terrorism, agitation about the danger of war) and which present military interventions as the only way of ensuring peace. The Falklands War was stage-managed principally with the aim of testing out the ideological impact of a military expedition in a big capitalist country[1]. With the sending of troops to Lebanon, bourgeois propaganda is pursuing the same goal by using an event with very different roots -- the confrontation between imperialist blocs.

In the face of an open crisis which offers a more and more catastrophic perspective, the bourgeoisie has no choice but to push towards its ‘solution' of generalized imperialist war. But the road to war is barred by the working class, which hasn't suffered a decisive defeat. Despite the relative quiescence of struggles, especially after the 1980-81 movements in Poland, the working class does not adhere en masse to any of the bourgeoisie's ideals. This is why the ruling class has to mount all its ideolog­ical campaigns -- to occupy the whole social terrain, to put a stop to the resurgence of struggle which took place in the advanced coun­tries in the late 70s, to prevent it from leading into a massive, international struggle of the working class, the only force which can offer an alternative to the barbarism of the capitalist system.

The barbarism of capital

The whole history of humanity is pitted with massacres, wars and genocides. Capitalism, the last society of exploitation of man by man, has in the last sixty years, since the defeat of the revolutionary wave of 1917-23 and the ensuing triumph of the counter-revolution, taken such barbarities to their extreme limit, to the point where it threatens the actual destruction of humanity in a third world war.

The wars of the 20th century have claimed many more victims than previous wars, from Antiquity to the Hundred Years War, from the feudal to the Napoleonic Wars. 20 million dead in 1914-18. 50 million in 1939-45. Tens of millions since then. And the ruling class now possesses weapons that could wipe out the planet several times over.

Millions have also fallen victim to the counter­revolutionary repression that has descended on the working class: in Germany in 1918-23 and under the Nazis; in Russia after the failure of the 1917 revolution and the advent of Stalinism; in China in 1927; in Spain in the ‘civil war' of 1936-39, etc. The number of victims is so huge that all the massacres from the Spartacus slave revolt to the repression of the Communards in 1871, only represent a small proportion of the bloodbaths that humanity has been through.

Capitalism, while taking humanity through a gigantic leap forward, has also developed exploitation to an unprecedented degree. It arose by throwing whole populations into misery, by dispossessing them of their former means of subsistence and turning them into proletarians who owned nothing but their labor power. In the ascendant period of capitalism, this situation was the heavy price paid for a real development of the productive forces. In the period of decadence, it is the consequence of the fact that capitalism can no longer develop towards the satisfaction of human needs. On the contrary, it can only survive through destruction.

The killings done by capitalism are only the tip of the iceberg. The submerged part is made up of the daily barbarity and absurdity of exploitation and oppression. When the bourgeoisie makes a campaign about a massacre, it does so in order to create a screen or an alibi[2] for other massacres, to justify a system which lives through an infernal cycle of crisis-war-reconstruction-crisis. This cycle has already mani­fested itself twice this century and will end up with the total destruction of humanity if the proletariat doesn't demolish world capital­ism once and for all.

The list is long of the high deeds of capitalist terror. When the bourgeoisie highlights a particular episode in this gloomy history, it's because it wants us to see the trees and miss the forest.

In Lebanon, the bourgeoisie is trying to kill two birds with one stone: to complete a ‘clean­up' operation through sowing terror, and to feign indignation for propaganda reasons. After several months of intensive bombardment, of imperialist pillage, the lamentations about the Lebanon are pure hypocrisy. The whole world bourgeoisie, east and west, but particularly the rulers of the ‘democratic countries' have blood on their hands.

All the capitalist states -- and all the states in the world today (including ‘potential' states like the PLO) are capitalist with all their parties and unions, the guarantors of bourgeois order and the defenders of the fatherland -- are responsible for these massacres. Reagan, Castro, Thatcher, Mitterand and Brezhnev -- all have shed their tears over a butchery carried out in a country where around eleven occupying armies are present. The theme of ‘there was nothing anyone could do' has been used to preach passivity and to introduce the idea that the ‘only thing to do' is to send back the armies of the USA, France and Italy -- for reasons of ‘safety'. And this, in effect, was the goal of the operation.

Imperialist conflicts and ideological campaigns

Because of its geographic situation as a passage-way between Europe, Africa and Asia, and because of its oil reserves, the Middle East has always figured at the heart of the war strategies of the 20th century. It has been a vital 'theatre of operation', to use the terms of the bourgeois strategists. World capitalism fashioned the Middle East into a constellation of states through international treaties and the armies of the main capitalist powers.

After being dominated by the Turks at the begin­ning of the century, by Anglo-French imperialism between the two world wars, the Middle East was placed under Anglo-American domination by the Tehran Conference and the Yalta agreements at the end of World War II. Today, after being disputed by the Russian bloc for over 20 years, the region is on the way to being completely under the hegemony of the western bloc.

Over the last ten years, we have seen a system­atic reversal of the positions Russia painfully acquired during the 1950s. First Egypt went back to the American camp after the Israel-Egypt war of 1973. From 1974 onwards, America's retreat from Vietnam, apart from being the result of a deal with China, also marked the accentuation of an American military and diplomatic offensive in the Middle East. This was Kissinger's ‘small steps' strategy, which opened up talks with everyone in the region; one of the results of this was the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt. Once the Egyptian front was neutralized, under American control, and Israel began to withdraw from the Sinai, the offensive was now directed towards the north (Syria, Iraq, Lebanon). This involved

-- disciplining Iraq

-- immobilizing Syria through manipulations on the internal level, particularly through the ‘Muslim Brotherhood', through military intimid­ation[3], and through considerable financial aid from Saudi Arabia

-- neutralizing any pro-Russian influences inside the PLO, by rallying it to western plans and dispersing the military apparatus to various countries.

This last development has been going on for several years: Arafat's speech at the UN in 1976 officially marked the beginning of the PLO's passage towards control by western diplomacy, a movement which has since gone much further. On the ground, Israel was the executor of this ‘clean-up'.

Today, the military phase of the operation is moving into a more ‘diplomatic' phase. This threatens to deprive Israel of its role as a privileged ally, as a unique military strong­hold, and it's not happening without friction. It's even possible that Israel has somewhat overshot the precise objectives fixed for it by the Reagan administration. Whatever the case, this in no way relieves America of responsibility for the massacres. On the contrary: it would only show the perfidy of the bourgeoisie, which is quite capable of liquidating the executors of its base deeds once the job is done, of using them as a scapegoat for its own crimes. The methods the bourgeoisie uses to defend its interests are the methods of gangsters.

In any case, the Israeli bourgeoisie will have to give way. It owes all its economic and military strength to its powerful allies. Like all states in the region, Israel is a pawn in the imperialist war, and it's population, like all those in the region, is a victim exploited, militarized and dragooned for interests that are not its own.

Feigning disapproval and indignation towards the state of Israel fulfills several objectives for American imperialism:

-- carrying through its strategic plan by relieving Israel of military and strategic privileges

-- moving from the ‘clean-up' phase of its operation to the diplomatic phase, which will push the imperialist front towards Iran and Afghanistan

-- trying to cover up its responsibilities in the massacres so that the mystifications of defending the ‘Palestinian cause' won't lose all credibility in the eyes of the Middle East populations as the PLO changes its shirt.

The ‘Palestinian cause' was the ideological justification for lining up behind the pro-Russian camp, promising a ‘return home' to the millions of refugees who for 40 years have served as a source of cannon-fodder and political maneuverings -- just as the ‘holocaust of the Jew' was the ‘grand alibi' for the anti-fascist war, then for the mobilizations in the Middle East.

The ‘civil war' in the Lebanon has never had the character of the oppressed against their oppress­ors, or of a war of liberation against imp­erialism, any more than other wars this century. Contrary to the proclamations of the left of capital and of the Bordigists, the workers have no camp to support in the Middle East war. The population there has been mobilized by various bourgeois militias armed by all the arms-dealers on the planet.

More than in Iran where workers' struggles have arisen, in Israel where there have been move­ments against price rises and wage freezes, or Egypt where the workers have on several occasions come out against hunger; Lebanon, where the proletariat is very weak, is a concentrated expression of the absurdity of imp­erialist war. In this sense, if these events represent a victory for the western bloc against the eastern bloc, a strengthening of the former thanks to a greater degree of coll­aboration within it, they also represent a victory for the bourgeoisie against the proletariat, which has nowhere reacted to them.

The key to the situation is in the advanced countries

The situation doesn't depend on what happens on a local level, but on what goes on in the capitalist metropoles. The balance of forces can only be established in favor of the prol­etariat at a world level. If the proletariat, where it is strongest and most concentrated, remains paralyzed and submits to the attacks of the bourgeoisie without reacting, then the way will be opened for the preparations for capitalist war to be pushed on to a higher level.

After more than ten years of open crisis, what has prevented war from generalizing is the revival of class struggle since the late sixties, in the advanced countries and the rest of the world. After a period of reflux, there was a new surge of the class struggle in the late seventies (USA, Germany, France, Britain). This culminated in Poland where the world working class launched the mass strike, posed the question of internationalizing its struggle[4], and highlighted the decisive importance of the development of the class struggle in the industrialized countries, especially Western Europe[5].

The bourgeoisie has already felt that the working class is an obstacle to the perpetuation of its system. It unified itself on a world level to face up to the movement in Poland. Its propaganda today is much more aimed at deafening the proletariat than at finding alibis (which it's more or less run out of) for a mobilization for war against the Russian bloc -- an imperialist bloc that is historically weaker and is weakened still further by the economic crisis and the combativity of the proletariat.

"The strengthening of the blocs, which is a prerequisite for war against the rival bloc, is now a direct and immediate preparation to confront the proletariat wherever it challenges the rule of. capital."[6]

With the events in the Lebanon, a wave of propaganda has been unleashed to inculcate feelings of terror and fatalism, and to reinforce the lie of a ‘democratic', ‘humane', ‘peace-keeping' capitalism. The aim, for imper­ialism, is to profit from one of its military victories by using it against the proletariat. The trick consists of focusing attention on a search for the ‘guilty' ones, when the only real criminal is capital and all its agents.

It's up to the world proletariat to respond to the offensive of the bourgeoisie by embark­ing on an international struggle. Only the working class can put an end to all forms of barbarism -- by putting an end to capitalism.


[1] See IR 30 ‘The Falklands War'

[2] See the PCI pamphlet Auschwitz or the Grand Alibi, on the justification for anti-fascism.

[3] During the aerial combats, Syria lost 86 planes, and Israel none.

[4] See IR 23-29 on the lessons on the struggle of Poland.

[5] See, in this issue, ‘The Proletariat of Western Europe at the Heart of the Class Struggle'.

[6] ‘Report on the Crisis and Inter-Imperialist Conflicts' to the 4th Congress of the ICC, IR 26.


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