1991 begins under the threat of an appallingly bloody war, involving a massive intervention by the army of the world's greatest capitalist power, the United States, alongside a plunge into open recession for the whole world economy, huge attacks against the working class in the developed countries and an ever more dreadful misery not only in the "Third World" but also in the countries of the one-time "Eastern bloc", with the USSR, ravaged by famine, in the forefront.
The world is not beginning a "new international order", but is already in the final phase of the capitalist mode of production's decadence: decomposition; At the heart of this turmoil of war of all against all, the United States is determined to defend by every means lit its disposal its worldwide domination of the existing "order".
War in the Gulf: Towards the massacre
As we write, James Baker, the second personality of the US state, has just completed a tour of meetings with heads of state in Saudi Arabia, Syria, the USSR, and France, during which he reminded his audience of the USA's determination against Iraq in the "Gulf crisis". Bush has returned from Czechoslovakia, where he repeated his call to follow behind the US in its military crusade. The American army is coducting large scale maneuvers. The number of troops is to be raised to 400,000. Hundreds of thousands of press-ganged Iraqis are ate front. The Israeli army is on war alert, and all the region's armies, police, and militia are in turmoil. The Middle East is on the verge of a new and unprecedentedly violent bloodbath.
Contrary to the propaganda on the end of the "Cold War", which was to mark the beginning of a new "world order" of peace, war has "heated up" at every level, and it is the chaos of the international situation, the decomposition of the capitalist system, that are accelerating.
"Disarmament"? A race for still more effective weapons, better adapted to "modern" warfare, while old, useless weapons are sent to scrap; the principal countries involved in the "conferences" and "agreements" are more and more directly involved in military conflicts, with the USA at their head.
"Peace"? The proliferation of conflicts, the direct involvement of the American army, the dispatch of troops and equipment to the battlefield by several countries, including the most developed, in quantities unheard of for decades, with an unprecedented recession of the whole world economy as backdrop.
The "international community"? The resistance and opposition is sharpening between the United States and their erstwhile "allies" of a "Western bloc" henceforth consigned to the dustbin of history.
The resistance of the developed countries
The dislocation of the anti-Iraq coalition: toward "every man for himself"
Hardly two months after the US managed, in August 1990, to create a facade of unity within the "international community" against the "madman Hussein" by unleashing the "Gulf crisis", every member of the same "community" is now out for its own interests.
Saddam Hussein's liberation of all the French hostages, without any apparent negotiation, has shown the real worth of the USA's "allies'" solemn promise a few days previously not to negotiate separately with Iraq. Apparently, Claude Cheysson (previously French Minister of Foreign Affairs) has held discussions with his Iraqi opposite number during his recent voyage to Amman. A whole galaxy of top personalities has been to Baghdad to negotiate the liberation of hostages officially, and certainly other things more discreetly: Willy Brandt, ex-Chancellor of West Germany and both Nobel peace prize winner and President of the "Socialist International"; Nakasone, ex-Prime Minister of Japan, Gorbachev's adviser Primakov, the Chinese Foreign Affairs minister, and the ex-PM's of more secondary countries such as Denmark and New Zealand, parliamentary delegations from Italy and Ireland, etc.
All this coming and going is not the result of individual initiatives. Willy Brandt's visit was certainly approved by the German government; the Chinese minister's visit is obviously official; Cheysson made no denials when he gave the game away as to his own mission.
We have come a long way since the general condemnation that greeted this summer's voyage by Kurt Waldheim. Nor is this a division of labor designed to trap Iraq, with the Americans playing the "tough guys" and the rest the conciliators. The British and American reactions show this clearly enough. The brutal refusal to negotiate with Iraq, the outraged criticisms by Bush, Thatcher, and Baker, prove the extent of the disagreements that are spreading within the "ONU" coalition.
Clearly, Hussein's "special treatment" of certain countries (France especially) is not disinterested. He is obviously aiming to drive a wedge between the different "allies" of the anti-Iraq coalition. If Saddam has bargained like this with his stock of hostages to obtain the visit of this or that well-known political figure, it is because he was well aware of the splits existing between the various countries. And this policy has encountered a certain success.
When the US demanded from the UN Security Council a resolution authorizing the recourse to armed force, the resistance of France, the USSR, and China, all permanent members of the Security Council, meant that in the end the resolution called for nothing more than strengthening the embargo!
While the USA is constantly reinforcing its military potential in the Gulf, faithfully aided and abetted by Britain, and as its stance becomes increasingly threatening and intransigent, France drags its feet, withdraws its troops from the front, reopens the diplomatic option with Mitterrand's UN speech, his meeting with Gorbachev, and Rocard's first declaration since the beginning of the crisis on the need to "explore every possibility of negotiation". Japan and Germany remain silent.
The unity of the "free world" has come to an end. The events of October 1990 were the first real signs of the basic tendency underlying the new conditions created by the disappearance of the Russian imperialist bloc in 1989: the disappearance of the Western bloc, the acceleration of decomposition, the struggle of every capitalist state against its rivals, for its own interests, and in the forefront the set-to between the major industrialized countries.
Might makes right
The USA is ready to act without consulting the "allies", the UN, or anybody else. If the American bourgeoisie is ready for war against Iraq, to sacrifice thousands of its "boys and girls", then this is not for Kuwait, nor to defend "international law", but to show off its strength and determination to the other developed countries. The French bourgeoisie, for example, has been forced out of its traditional zones of influence in the Middle East, first of all from Iraq itself, but also from Beirut since the USA gave Syria t the green light for the annexation of Lebanon in an operation every bit as bloody and violent as Hussein's of Kuwait.
Quarrels proliferate in every domain:
- dissolution of the secret network of influence and control set up by the USA following World War II (the Gladio "scandal" which started in Italy, but has since spread to Belgium, France, Holland and Germany);
- US diktat in the GATT negotiations over European subsidies to the farming sector; proliferation of industrial espionage "affairs", against the Japanese in particular, but also against the French.
And all this is chickenfeed compared to the divergence of interests between the great industrialized powers, which will widen, and become more and more open, as the economic and trade war doubles in intensity with the brutal acceleration of the crisis.
The opposition between the USA, abetted by Britain, and the rest
The collapse of the Russian imperialist bloc has overthrown the planet's entire politico-military and geo-strategic balance of forces. And this situation has not only opened a period of complete chaos in the countries and regions of the ex-Eastern bloc, it has accelerated the tendencies towards chaos everywhere, threatening the world capitalist "order" of which the USA was the principal beneficiary. The latter has been the first to react. The US provoked the "Gulf crisis" in August 1990 not only to gain a definitive foothold in the region, but above all, and this was decisive in the decision, to make an example, as a warning to anyone who might want to oppose their status as the capitalist world's mightiest super-power.
For the USA, the situation is clear. Its national interest as the world's greatest power (by far) is absolutely identical with the global interest of capital faced with the dynamic of decomposition which is leading to the break-up of the whole system of international relations. Amongst the great powers, only Britain has show unswerving support for the US, because of the traditional orientation of its foreign policy, of its interests in Kuwait, and above all because its own previous experience as world "leader" has allowed the British ruling class to understand much better what is at stake in the present period.
For the other powers (2), by contrast, the situation is much more contradictory. While all have an interest in slowing the tendency towards decomposition, which is behind the unanimous condemnation of the invasion of Kuwait, the reinforcement of the USA nonetheless goes against their own interests.
The military operation undertaken by the US, which was supposed to bring peace to the Middle East through a war justified in everyone's eyes because it was defending "democracy" and "freedom", has proved to be the beginning of the rout rather than the welding of the great "democratic" powers.
In fact, these different countries are caught in a trap. By playing its part as world policeman right from the start, against a second-rate country, the US aims not only to contain the chaos developing in the Third World, but also that threatening to become endemic among the developed countries. The US proposes to contain not just the ambitions of small peripheral states, but also and above all those of the central states. By contrast, while the latter clearly have an interest in the first US objective - the maintenance of order in the peripheral zones they have none in the second.
By flaunting its military might, the US demonstrates the others' relative weakness. Right from the start, the US sent in its troops without waiting for its "allies'" agreement; the latter were forced to rally round under pressure rather than out of conviction. As long as the action against Iraq takes the form of an embargo or diplomatic isolation, they can pretend to play minor roles, and so insist on their own minor individual interests. By contrast, a military offensive can only emphasize the enormous superiority of the US, and its allies impotence. This is why the latter are much less interested in a military solution which can only strengthen the US position, and allow it to impose its will still more strongly.
These countries are incapable today, and will remain so for a long time, of rivaling the USA on the political and military level. Japan and Germany are seriously backward in the military domain. French mobilization and armament only exist inasmuch as they are integrated into the American military system, as we can see from the lamentable French effort in Saudi Arabia, which remains utterly dependent on US support. The same is true of Great Britain. The US' main economic rivals are either unarmed, or completely incapable of standing up to the USA. Iraq provided the opportunity, and it is public knowledge today that the US knew in advance about Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and let it happen, if not more.
The USA: Middle East giant, world giant
The general context in which world capitalism's greatest power is floundering cannot but push it into war, to defend its own hegemony against the collapse of whole sections of the capitalist world, dragging their suffocating local bourgeoisies or regional imperialisms into military adventures that present a danger for the "pax americana" called into question by the new situation. Ever since the end of the Iran-Iraq war, the United States has been determined to prevent Iraq from upsetting the "equilibrium" of forces in the region. It is this "equilibrium" on the military level between the different countries that lets the US enforces its control, under the disguise of an "umpire".
As the economy collapses, the USA knows that it must use military force to keep control of the world economy. While the US used the economic weapon against its Russian imperialist rival during the decades since Vietnam, it will increasingly have to use its military supremacy to keep its "leadership" of the capitalist system.
Only the solution: the class struggle
There will be no war between USA and USSR, but the "logic of war" under way today shows that imperialism's rampage has not stopped even for a second. Today it is threatening to put the Middle East to fire and sword. And this is only the beginning of a whole series of armed conflicts and military operations, of bloody "ethnic" and national wars.
In the developed countries, the proletariat is not confronted with a general mobilization, as it was at the outbreak of World Wars I and II. It has not been enrolled for war, as is the case for the proletariat in Iraq and other countries. But nonetheless, the war in the Middle East, the total imbalance throughout the region, the enormous destruction that would be caused by a war, the bloodbath being plotted today by world capital to maintain a residue of international "order", none of these things are "far away", or foreign to the working class in the industrialized metropoles. This proletariat is not yet paying with its blood in the trenches or under the bombs, but it is in the forefront to pay the bill for the maintenance of capitalist "order", with a redoubled attack on its living conditions.
Reinforced exploitation, inflation and unemployment, falling wages, pensions, and benefits, "flexible" working hours, the constant decline in standards of health, transport, housing, education and security, all add up to economic attacks on a scale unprecedented since World War II.
General mobilization under the national flag to fight in the national army is not on the agenda in the developed countries, because the proletariat has not suffered a massive and decisive defeat in its economic struggles against austerity, in its attempts to extend and control its struggles throughout the 1980's. But the heavy price already paid in the blood of workers enrolled directly for imperialist massacre, heralds that which threatens the workers in the great industrial concentrations.
For the last twenty years, the working class has been able to hold back the planet's total destruction in an inter-imperialist holocaust, especially during the period of great workers' struggles, internationally, in 1968-75, 1978-81, and 1983-89.
Today, capitalism is rotting where it stands, and the threat of total destruction is there more than ever. The "balance of terror" no longer exists: the "balance" that was formed by the two great super-powers has certainly gone, but the "terror" remains, and will get worse.
The alternative of socialism or barbarism is more than ever on the agenda. Capitalism will not die of its own accord. It will not drag humanity down into instant nuclear terror, but its own dynamic means that its continued survival can only mean a bottomless horror; its survival will lead to the same result.
This catastrophic course on which the continued existence of production relations in the world has engaged us can only be stopped by the development of the proletariat' class struggle, an awareness of its own strength as a social force, of its own interests distinct from those of other classes, and antagonistic to all the particular interests of all the other classes and strata in society. By defending its own interests, the proletariat is the only force capable of taking charge of the destruction of capitalism's political power on a world scale, which guarantees the "order" of this agonizing world order.
Only the struggles of the working class internationally, and first and foremost those of the workers in the major industrialized countries, can block the armed power of world capitalism. The dynamic of the capitalist system itself can only lead to war-mongering barbarism. There can be no "peace" under capitalism, still less today than during the preceding twenty years.
JM, 18th November 1990
 See "Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism", in International Review no 62, 3rd quarter 1990.