International situation: Behind the ‘humanitarian’ operations of the great powers, imperialist barbarism is unchained

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Through the "live" reports on the TV screens, the barbarism of today's world has become a day-to-day feature in hundreds of millions of sitting rooms. "Ethnic purification" camps and endless massacres in ex-Yugoslavia, at the heart of "civilized" Europe; murderous famines in Somalia; new air incursions by the big western powers over Iraq: war, death, terror - this is how the "world order" of capital presents itself at the end of this millennium. If the media convey to us such an intolerable image of capitalist society, it is obviously not aimed at inciting the only class which can do away with it, the proletariat, to become conscious of its historic responsibility and to engage in decisive struggles against this system. On the contrary, the aim of the "humanitarian" campaigns that surround these tragedies is to paralyze the working class, to make it believe that the powerful are really concerned about the catastrophic state of the world, that they are doing everything necessary, or at least everything possible, to make things better. The aim is also to hide the sordid imperialist interests which really motivate their actions and which are tearing them apart. It is to raise a smokescreen in front of their own responsibility in the barbarism going on today and to justify new escalations in this barbarism.

For over a year, what used to be called Yugoslavia has been drowned in fire and blood. Month after month, the list of martyred towns gets longer and longer: Vukovar, Osijek, Dubrovnik, Gorazde and now Sarajevo. New slaughter- houses open up before others have closed. There are already more than two million refugees on the roads. In the name of "ethnic purification", we have seen the proliferation of concentration camps both for soldiers and civilian prisoners. Here people are subjected to starvation, torture and summary executions. A few hundred kilometers from the big industrial concentrations of western Europe, the "new world order" announced by Bush and other "great democrats" when the Stalinist regimes of Europe fell apart, once again reveals its true face: one of massacres, terror, and ethnic persecution

The games of the great powers in Yugoslavia

The governments of the advanced countries and their tame media have continuously presented the barbarism being unleashed in ex-Yugoslavia as the result of the ancestral hatreds which have set the different populations of this region against each other. And it is true that, like the other countries formerly dominated by the Stalinist regimes, notably the ex- USSR, the iron grip in which these populations were held in no way got rid of the old antagonisms perpetuated by history. On the contrary, although a late development of capitalism in these regions did not allow them really to transcend the ancient divisions left by feudal society, the so-called "socialist" regimes did nothing but exacerbate these divisions. These divisions could only be overcome by an advanced capitalism, by a high level of industrialization, by a bourgeoisie that was strong both economically and politically, capable of unifying itself around the nation state. But the Stalinist regimes have had none of these characteristics. As revolutionaries have underlined for a long time[1], and as has been strikingly confirmed over the last few years, these regimes were at the front rank of the underdeveloped capitalist countries, with a particularly weak bourgeoisie which from the very beginning bore all the stigmata of capitalist decadence[2]. Born out of the counter- revolution and the imperialist war, this type of bourgeoisie based its power almost exclusively on terror and armed force. For some decades these instruments gave it an appearance of strength and could make it seem that it had done away with the old nationalist and ethnic divisions. But in reality, the image of monolithism was not backed up by any real unity in its ranks. In fact there was a permanent division between the various cliques which composed it, and only the iron hand of the party-state kept these divisions from blowing the whole thing to pieces. The immediate explosion of the USSR into as many republics as soon as the Stalinist regime had collapsed, the unchaining of a whole series of ethnic conflicts within these republics (Armenians against Azeris, Ossetians against Georgians, Chechene-Ingouchians against Russians etc) express . the fact that smothering these divisions has only exacerbated them. And today they are expressing themselves by the same means as they were contained: force of arms.

Having said all this, the collapse of the Stalinist regime in ex-Yugoslavia does not in itself explain the present situation in this part of the world. As we have shown, the collapse of these regimes was itself a manifestation of the final phase of the decadence of the capitalist mode of production, the phase of decomposition[3]. We cannot understand the barbarism and the chaos sweeping the world, the Balkans included, without taking account of this unprecedented historical situation represented by decomposition. The "new world order" can only be a chimera: capitalism has irreversibly plunged humanity into the greatest chaos in history, a chaos which can lead only to the destruction of humanity or the overthrow of capitalism.

However, the big imperialist powers are not standing with folded arms faced with the advance of decomposition. The Gulf war, prepared, provoked, and led by the USA, was an attempt by the world's major power to limit this chaos and the tendency towards "every man for himself" resulting from the collapse of the eastern bloc. To some extent, the USA attained its ends, in particular by further reinforcing its grip on a zone as important as the Middle East and by forcing the other great powers to follow it and even support it in the Gulf war. But this operation to "maintain order" very quickly revealed its limitations. In the Middle East itself, it helped to encourage the Kurdish nationalist uprising against the Iraqi state (and, after that, against the Turkish state), as well as facilitating the Shi'ite uprising in the south of Iraq. All over the planet, the "new world order" proved to be a mirage, especially with the beginning of the conflict in Yugoslavia during the summer of 91. And what the latter demonstrated was that the contribution of the great powers to this so-called "world order" not only had nothing positive about it, but simply served to aggravate chaos and antagonisms.

Such a statement is particularly obvious vis-a-vis Yugoslavia, where the current chaos flows directly from the action of the great powers. At the origin of the process which has led this region into the present conflict was the declaration of independence by Slovenia and Croatia in June 91. Now it is clear that these two republics would not have taken such a risk if they had not received the firm support (diplomatic, but also in weapons) of Austria and its big boss, Germany. In fact we can say that in its aim of opening up an outlet onto the Mediterranean, the German bourgeoisie took the initial responsibility of provoking the break-up of Yugoslavia, with all the consequences we can see today. But the bourgeoisies of the other powers did not remain passive. Thus, the violent response by Serbia to the independence of Slovenia, and above all of Croatia, where an important Serbian minority was living, from the start had the solid support of the USA and its closest European allies, in particular Great Britain. We have even seen France, which, in other respects has made an alliance with Germany to try to form a sort of condominium over Europe, lining up with the USA and Britain and supporting the "integrity of Yugoslavia", ie, Serbia and its policy of occupying Croatian regions peopled by Serbs. Here again it is clear that without this initial support, Serbia would have been much less ambitious in its military policy, both against Croatia last year, and against Bosnia-Herzegovina today. This is why the sudden "humanitarian" concern by the USA and other great powers about the atrocities committed by the Serbian authorities hardly hides the immense hypocrisy which lies behind it. In some ways, the French bourgeoisie takes the biscuit because while it has kept up its close relations with Serbia (a long-established alliance this) it has also done its best to appear as the champion of "humanitarian" action, with Mitterrand's trip to Sarajevo in June 92, just before the Serbian blockade of Sarajevo airport was lifted. it is obvious that this "gesture" by Serbia had already been secretly negotiated with France in order to allow these two countries to draw the maximum advantage from the situation: it allowed Serbia to delay the UN ultimatum while saving face, and gave a nice boost to French diplomacy in this region, enabling it to juggle between the policies of the USA and of Germany.

In fact, the failure of the recent London conference on ex-Yugoslavia, a failure demonstrated by the continuation of military confrontations, simply expresses the great powers' inability to come to an agreement when their interests are so antagonistic. While they have all been united in making grand declarations about "humanitarian" needs (you have to save face after all), and in condemning the Serbian "black sheep", it is clear that each one has its own "solution" to the  confrontations in the Balkans.

On one side, the USA's strategy is to counter-balance Germany. For the world's leading power it is a question of trying to limit the extension of pro-German Croatia and, in particular, to preserve, as far as possible, the integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This strategy, which explains the sudden turn of US diplomacy against Serbia in the spring of 92, is aimed at depriving the Croatian ports of Dalmatia of their territories at the rear, which belong to Bosnia- Herzegovina. At the same time, supporting the latter country, which has a Muslim majority, can only benefit US policy towards the Muslim states in general. In particular, it aims to draw back into its orbit a Turkey which is more and more turning towards Germany.

On the other side, the German bourgeoisie has no interest in maintaining the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. On the contrary, it has an interest in its partition, with the Croats controlling the south of the country, as is already the case today, so that the Dalmatian ports have a rearguard territory wider than the narrow band that officially belongs to Croatia. Moreover, this is why there currently exists a complicity between yesterday's enemies, Serbia and Croatia, in favor of the dismemberment of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This obviously does not mean that Germany is now ready to line up behind Serbia, which remains the "hereditary enemy" of its Croatian ally. But at the same time, it can only look askance at all the "humanitarian" gesticulations, which it knows are primarily aimed at countering German interests in the region.

For its part, the French bourgeoisie is trying to play its own card, both against the perspective of increased American influence in the Balkans, and against German imperialism's policy of creating an outlet to the Mediterranean. Its opposition to the latter policy does not mean that the alliance between Germany and France is being called into question. It simply means that France is trying to maintain certain of the advantages which it has held onto for a long time (such as the presence of a Mediterranean fleet, something Germany does not have at the moment) so that its association with its powerful neighbor does not mean mere submission to it. In fact, leaving aside all the contortions around humanitarian themes, all the speeches denouncing Serbia, the French bourgeoisie is the latter's best western ally in its ambition to create its own sphere of influence in the Balkans.

In this context of rivalries between the great powers, there can be no "peaceful" solution for ex-Yugoslavia. The competition between these powers in the domain of "humanitarian" action is just the continuation of their imperialist competition. In this situation of unchained antagonisms between capitalist states, the world's leading power has tried to impose its Pax Americana by putting itself at the head of the threats and the embargo against Serbia. And indeed the USA, with its war planes based on the aircraft-carriers of the. 6th Fleet, is the only power capable of dealing decisive blows against Serbia's military potential and its militias. But at the same time, the US is not prepared to put its ground troops into a conventional war against Serbia. Here the terrain is very different from the one in Iraq which allowed the GIs to mark such a resounding victory a year and a half a go. Thanks to the contributions of all the imperialist sharks, this situation has become so inextricable that it could turn into a real quicksand for the world's major army, that is unless it were to unleash massacres on a scale far outweighing the ones presently going on. This is why, for the moment, even if a precisely targeted air strike cannot be ruled out, the USA's repeated threats against Serbia have not been put into practice. Up till now they have served essentially to force the hand of the USA's recalcitrant allies within the framework of the UN, in order to make them vote for sanctions against Serbia (this applies in particular to France). They have also had the merit, from .the American point of view, of showing up the total impotence of "European Unity" faced with a conflict that is taking place within its own area of competence, and thus to dissuade the states who might be dreaming of using the structures of "Europe" to move towards the constitution of a new imperialist bloc rivaling the USA. In particular, the USA's attitude has had the effect of widening fissures within the Franco-German alliance. Finally, the menacing stance of the US is also a call to order to two important countries in the region - Italy and Turkey[4], who are being tempted to make a rapprochement with the German imperialist pole to the detriment of their alliance with the USA.

However, while the policy of American imperialism towards the Yugoslav question has managed to attain some of its objectives, it is mainly been by sharpening the difficulties of its rivals, and not by a massive and incontestable display of American supremacy. Now this is precisely what the USA has been looking for in the skies over Iraq.

In Iraq as elsewhere, the USA reasserts its role as the world's gendarme

You would have to be particularly naive, or completely sold on the bourgeoisie's ideological campaigns, to believe in the "humanitarian" purposes of the present "Allied" intervention in Iraq. Had the American bourgeoisie and its accomplices been the slightest bit interested in the fate of the populations of Iraq, they would not have begun by giving their solid support to the Iraqi regime when it was making war on Iran and at the same time gassing the Kurds. In particular, they would not have unleashed a bloody war in January 1991, whose first victims were the civilians and conscripted troops - a war that the Bush administration had deliberately provoked, first by encouraging Saddam Hussein, prior to 2 August, to get his hands on Kuwait and then by not leaving him any means of retreat[5]. In the same way, you would have to look very hard to find anything humanitarian in the way the USA ended the Gulf war - leaving intact the Republican Guard, Saddam Hussein's elite troops, who proceeded to drown in blood the Kurdish and Shi' ite populations which US propaganda had encouraged to rise up all through the war. The cynicism of this policy has been openly admitted by one of the most eminent bourgeois specialists on military questions:

"It was a deliberate decision by President Bush to allow Saddam Hussein to proceed to crush the rebellions which, in the eyes of the American administration, contained the risk of a Lebanisation of Iraq. A coup d'état against Saddam was desired, but not the break-up of the country. " (F Heisbourg, director of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, in an interview with Le Monde, 17 January 1992).

In reality, the humanitarian dimension of the "air exclusion zone" in southern Iraq is of the same order as the operation carried out by the "Coalition" in spring 1991 in the north of the country. For several months, after the end of the war, the Kurds were left to be massacred by the Republican Guard; then, when the massacre was well advanced, in the name of "humanitarian intervention" they set up an "air exclusion zone" while at the same time launching an international charity campaign on behalf of the Kurds. At the time, it was done in order to give a justification for the Gulf war by showing what a swine Saddam was. The message that was aimed at those who did not approve of the war and its massacres was as follows: "there wasn't "too much" war, but "not enough"; we should have continued the offensive until Saddam was removed from power". A few months after this very highly publicized operation, the "humanitarians" left the Kurds to shiver in their tents through the winter. As for the Shi'ites, at this time they did not benefit from the solicitude of the professional tear-shedders and still less from any armed protection. It would seem that they were being kept in reserve (ie, Saddam was allowed to go on massacring and repressing them) so that an "interest" in their sad lot could be displayed at a later date. And now the moment has arrived.

It arrived with the perspective of presidential elections in the US. Although certain fractions of the American bourgeoisie are in favor of a change which could give a fillip to the democratic mystification[6], Bush and his team still have the confidence of the majority of the ruling class. Through the Gulf war in particular, Bush and Co. have proved themselves to be ardent defenders of the national capital and the imperialist interests of the USA. However, the opinion polls indicate that Bush is not assured of re-election. So a nice sharp bit of action would revive patriotic sentiments and rally wide layers of the American population around the President, as it did during the Gulf war. However, the electoral context alone does not explain the present actions of the American bourgeoisie in the Middle East. The elections might determine the precise moment chosen for such an action, but the underlying reasons for it go well beyond such domestic contingencies.

In fact, the USA's new military engagement in Iraq is part of a general offensive by this power aimed at reasserting its supremacy in the world imperialist arena. The Gulf war already corresponded to this objective and it did serve to hold back the tendency towards "every man for himself" among the USA's former partners in the western bloc. When the threat from the east disappeared with the collapse of the Russian bloc, countries like Japan, Germany and France began to spread their wings, but the Desert Storm operation forced them to make an act of allegiance to the American gendarme. The first two had to make important financial contributions and the third was "invited" along with a whole series of other not very enthusiastic countries (such as Italy, Spain, and Belgium) to participate in the military operations.  However, the events of the last year, and particularly the German bourgeoisie's assertion of its imperialist interests in Yugoslavia, showed the limits of the impact of the Gulf war. Other events confirmed the USA's inability to impose its own imperialist interests in a definitive or long-lasting manner. Thus, in the Middle East, even a country like France, which had been ejected from the region at the time of the Gulf war (losing its Iraqi client and being pushed out of Lebanon, as Syria, with US permission, took control of the country), is attempting a come-back in the Lebanon (cf the recent interview between Mitterrand and the Lebanese prime minister, and the return to the country of the pro-French former president Amine Gemayel). In fact, in the Middle East there is no lack of bourgeois factions (like the PLO for example) interested in lightening the weight of US supremacy, which was made all the heavier by the Gulf war. This is why the USA is regularly and repeatedly forced to reassert its leadership in the way it does most clearly - through force of arms.

Today, with the creation of an "air exclusion zone" in south Iraq, the USA is reminding the states of the region, but also and above' all the other big powers, who is boss. At the same time it is dragging in a country like France, whose participation in the Gulf war was far from enthusiastic, and which has not shown much enthusiasm for the latest action either - it has only sent over a few reconnaissance planes. Nevertheless, France has been forced to submit to US policy here. And of course, beyond France there stands Germany, France's main ally and the USA's biggest potential rival. It is above all Germany that this call to order is addressed to.

The offensive being waged by the world's leading power to bring its "allies" to heel is not restricted to the Balkans and Iraq. It is also aimed at other "hot spots" like Afghanistan and Somalia.

In the former, the bloody offensive by the Hezbollah led by Hekmatyar for the control of Kabul is resolutely supported by Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, i.e. two close allies of the USA. Thus in the last resort it is the USA which is behind the attempt to get rid of the current strong man in Kabul, the "moderate" Massoud. And this can easily be understood when you remember that the latter is the chief of a coalition made up of Farsi-speaking Tadjiks (supported by Iran whose relations with France are getting warmer) and Turkish-speaking Uzbeks (supported by Turkey which is close to Germany).[7]

Similarly, the sudden "humanitarian" enthusiasm for Somalia in reality conceals imperialist antagonisms of the same kind. The Horn of Africa is a strategic region of the first importance. For the USA, it is a priority to have complete control over this region and to chase out any potential rival. As it happens one of the main obstacles to this is French imperialism, which holds in Djibouti a military base of some importance. That is why there has been a real "humanitarian" race between France and the USA to "get help" to the Somali population (the aim in fact being to get to the driving seat in a country that has already been smashed to pieces). France won a point by being the first to arrive with "humanitarian aid" (sent precisely from Djibouti), but, since then, the USA, with all the means that it has at its disposal, has sent in its "aid" in far greater quantities. In Somalia, for the moment, the imperialist balance of forces is not being expressed in tons of bombs but in tons of cereals and medicines; even if tomorrow, when the situation has moved on, the Somalis will again be left to die like flies amid a general indifference.

Thus, it is in the name of "humanitarian" feelings, in the name of virtue, that the world cop is affirming its conception of the "new world order" on three continents. This does not of course prevent it from acting like a gangster, like all the other fractions of the bourgeoisie. In fact the American bourgeoisie has no hesitation in quietly using forms of action which the bourgeois class normally refers to as "organized crime" (in reality, the main "organized crime" is the kind carried out by all the capitalist states, whose crimes are more monstrous and more "organized" than those of any bandit). This is what we have seen recently in Italy with a series of bombings which, in the space of two months, cost the life of two anti-Mafia judges in Palermo and the chief of police in Catane. The "professionalism" of these bombings show, and this' was clear to everyone in Italy, that there was a state apparatus, or part of one, behind them. In particular, there is definite evidence showing the complicity of the secret services whose job was to ensure the judges' safety. These murders were brilliantly used by the present government, by the media and the unions to make workers put up with the unprecedented attacks being launched to improve the health of the Italian economy. The bourgeois campaigns associate the latter with the drive to "clean up" political life and the state ("to have a clean state, you have to pull in your belts"), at a time when there have been a whole series of corruption scandals. Having said this, because these bombings have also shown up its impotence, we can see that the present government is not directly behind them, even if certain elements in the state apparatus are implicated. What we are seeing here is some brutal settling of scores between different factions of the bourgeoisie and its state apparatus. And behind all this, it is clear that there are issues of foreign policy. In fact, the clique which has just been pushed out of the new government (Andreotti and Co.) was both the one closest to the Mafia (this was a matter of public notoriety) and also the one most involved in the alliance with the US.

Today it is not surprising that the Americans, in their effort to dissuade the Italian bourgeoisie from lining up with the Franco-German axis, are using one of the organizations which have already rendered them many services in the past: the Mafia. In 1943, the Sicilian Mafiosi had received orders from the famous Italian-American gangster, Lucky Luciano, then in prison, to facilitate the landing of US troops on the island. In exchange, Luciano was freed (even though he'd been sent down for 50 years) and returned to Italy to organize the traffic in cigarettes and drugs. Later on, the Mafia was regularly associated with the activities of the Gladio network (set up during the Cold War, with the complicity of the Italian secret service, by the CIA and NATO) and of the P2 Lodge (linked to American freemasonry), with the aim of combatting "Communist subversion" (i.e. activities favorable to the Russian bloc). The declarations of the Mafiosi who "repented" during the grand anti-Mafia trial of 1987, organized by Judge Falcone, clearly demonstrated the connivance between the Cosa Nostra and the P2 Lodge. This is why the recent bombings cannot just be connected to problems of internal politics but must be seen as part of the current offensive of the USA, which is using these methods to put pressure on Italy, which is of such prime strategic importance, not to break out of its "protection".

Thus, behind the grand phrases about the "rights of man", about "humanitarian" action, about peace and morality, what the bourgeoisie is asking us to preserve is the most unmitigated barbarism, the most advanced putrefaction of the whole of social life. The more virtuous its words, the more repulsive are its actions. This is the way of life of a class and a system condemned by history, a system which in its death agony threatens to drag the whole of humanity with it if the proletariat does not find the strength to overthrow it, if it allows itself to be pulled off its class terrain by all the fine speeches of the class that exploits it. And it can find this class terrain by waging a determined fight against the increasingly brutal attacks which are being imposed on it by a capitalism confronted with an insoluble economic crisis. Because the proletariat has not suffered a decisive defeat, and despite the difficulties which the convulsions of the past three years have brought to its combativity and its consciousness, the future remains open to gigantic class confrontations. Confrontations in which the revolutionary class must develop the strength, the solidarity and the consciousness it will need to carry through its historical mission: the abolition of capitalist exploitation and of all forms of exploitation. FM 13.9.92

[1] See in particular the article "Eastern Europe: the weapons of the bourgeoisie against the proletariat" in International Review 34 (third quarter 1983).

[2] An important factor in the overcoming of the old ethnic cleavages is obviously the development of a modem, concentrated proletariat, educated for the needs of capitalist production; a proletariat which has an experience of struggle and class solidarity and which has broken away from the old prejudices left by feudal society, in particular religious prejudices which are so often the soil for the growth of ethnic hatred. It is clear that in the economically backward countries, there is little chance of such a proletariat developing. However, in this part of the world, the weakness of economic development is not the main factor behind the political weakness of the working class and its vulnerability to nationalism. For example, the proletariat of Czechoslovakia is much closer, from the point of view of its economic and social development, to that of Western Europe than to the proletariat of ex-Yugoslavia. This does not prevent it accepting, or even supporting, the nationalism which has led to the partition of this country into two republics (it's true that in Slovakia, the less developed part of the country, nationalism is stronger). In fact, the enormous political backwardness of the working class in the countries that were under a Stalinist regime for several decades comes essentially from the workers' almost visceral rejection of the central themes of the class struggle, because of the way they were abused by these regimes. If the "socialist revolution" means the ferocious tyranny of party-state bureaucrats, then down with the socialist revolution! If "class solidarity" means bowing down to these bureaucrats and putting up with their privileges, then sold them and every man for himself! If "proletarian internationalism" is synonymous with the intervention of Russian tanks, then death to internationalism and long live nationalism!

[3] On our analysis of the phase of decomposition, see in particular International Review 62, ‘Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism'.

[4] The strategic importance of these two countries for the US is obvious: Turkey, with the Bosphorus, controls communication between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean; Italy, thanks to Sicily, controls the passage between the east and the west of the Mediterranean. Also, the 6th Fleet is based in Naples.

[5]On this point, see the articles and resolutions in the International Review nos. 63-67.  

[6] As we showed in our press at the time, the arrival of the Republicans to the head of the state in 1981 corresponded to a global strategy of the most powerful bourgeoisies (particularly in Britain and Germany, but also in a number of other countries), aiming at putting the left parties in opposition. This strategy sought to allow the latter to be in a better position to keep control over the working class at a time when it was developing significant struggles against the growing economic attacks demanded by the crisis. The retreat in the world wide class struggle that followed the collapse of the eastern bloc and the campaigns that accompanied it temporarily put this need to keep the parties of the left in opposition on a back burner. This is why having a Democratic president for a period of four years, before the working class has fully rediscovered the path of struggle, has found favor in certain sectors of the bourgeoisie. In this sense, a possible victory by the Democratic candidate in November 92 should not be considered as a loss of control by the bourgeoisie over its political game, as was the case for example with election of Mitterrand in France in 1981.

[7] The present offensive by Russia aimed at maintaining control over Tadjikstan is obviously not unconnected to this situation: for several months, the loyalty to the US of Yeltsin's Russia has been shown to be very solid.

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