Imperialist Conflicts: Each against All

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The anarchy and chaos which today characterizes the relations between fractions of the bourgeoisie, in particular at the international level, is not only the product of the earthquake represented by the collapse of the eastern bloc. This collapse, which is still taking its course as can be seen by the present events in the Caucasus, is itself the manifestation of a deeper reality, the same reality that explains the war in ex-Yugoslavia, or the fact that 900,000 Rwandans are rotting in refugee camps in Zaire: the advanced decadence of capitalism, its decomposition as a social system.

When a social system enters into its phase of decadence, that is to say when the social relations of production which characterize it become obsolete, no longer adapted to the possibilities and necessities of society, the very basis for the profits and privileges of the ruling class is reduced, made more fragile. The cohesion of the ruling class then tends to disintegrate into an infinite number of conflicting interests. Like hungry beasts who can only survive at the expense of others, more and more fractions of the class in power start tearing each other apart, devastating the civilization they once helped to build. Just as the numerous armies of decadent Rome ruined what was left of a decomposing Empire with their incessant conflicts, just as the feudal lords of the late Middle Ages destroyed whole harvests with their permanent local conflicts, so the imperialist powers of our century have made humanity go through the worst destructions in its history. The means and dimensions of the drama have changed. Catapults made of wood and animal skins have given way to guided missiles, and the battlefield has assumed the dimensions of the entire planet. But the nature of the phenomenon is the same. Society is destroying itself in an indescribable chaos, the prisoner of economic and social relations that have become too narrow ... Today, however, the very survival of humanity is at stake.

The forces of disintegration at work

To measure the reality of the chaos that now dominates international relations, we can distinguish two points of departure. On the one hand there is the general, 'ordinary', omnipresent chaos which is spreading everywhere; on the other hand, within all this, there are more important antagonisms, expressing the tendency towards the reconstitution of blocs or alliances and indicating the most decisive lines of force: this is the case with the antagonism between the former bloc leader, the USA, and a reunified Germany which is the candidate for the role of leader of a new bloc.

Ordinary chaos

The more the governments organize international meetings and summits between the statesmen of the big powers, the more the divisions between them break out into the open. The international organizations, whether it's the UN, NATO, the Western European Union or others, appear more and more as grotesque and impotent masquerades where the only thing that outdoes hypocrisy is cynicism. The media lament the 'misunderstandings' between the member countries, the 'differences in method' which are paralyzing these temples to the 'concert of nations'. But the reality of international relations is the reign of each against all. Each country is constantly caught between the necessity to defend its interests against those of others, which implies a proliferation of antagonisms with other countries, and, at the same time, the necessity for alliances that will enable it to survive in an ever more irrational and ruthless war. The fact that millions of victims pay for these antagonisms every year, all over the planet, does not halt this game of massacre between national capitals, and above all between the great powers.

The last months of 1994 have been rich in new manifestations of this frenetic chaos in which alliances are made and unmade against a background of ever-increasing instability.

The most tangible sign of the depth and importance of this instability today is the current evolution of the relations between the USA and Britain. What was once an unchanging point of reference in international relations is now going through its most difficult moments since the Suez crisis of 1956. The Economist, in its annual supplement, has talked of a "fading friendship". A report by the Pentagon goes along the same lines, accusing France of fuelling the war in Yugoslavia in order to poison relations between the USA and Britain.

During an ordinary summit at Chartres, in October 1994, Britain and France decided to set up a "group of combined aerial forces" and to work together towards an inter-African intervention force that would serve to "keep the peace" in English and French speaking Africa. The British no longer see the Western European Union as a "French submarine within NATO", and the journalists insist on the strength represented by this alliance between the only two nuclear powers in Europe.

Thus, Britain is moving further and further away from the USA; in order to defend its own interests, it is tending to adopt policies that are openly opposed to the USA, as we can see in Africa and above all in the Balkans.

The American-Russian alliance, that other pillar of the construction of the "new world order" has also been put to a
severe test. The question of the enlarging of NATO towards countries that were once part of the USSR's bloc (what Russia calls its "nearby abroad"), in particular Poland and the Czech republic, has more and more become a major bone of contention between the two powers. "No third country can dictate the conditions for enlarging NATO", as an American official dryly declared in the face of Russian protests.

The Franco-German axis, the spinal column of the European Union, has also been put into question: "We are light years from the German position" declared a French official, summarizing France's opposition to any "communitarianisation" of the foreign and security policies of the European Union. France fears that Europe will become a "German super-state". At the same time, Germany is nervous about a Franco-British alliance in 1995 against the prospect of a German-dominated federal Europe, an alliance that would have the sole purpose of countering Bonn's hegemonic ambitions.

Today the cohesion of the great blocs of the cold war seems like a distant memory of unity and order; the 'concert of nations' has become a barbaric cacophony. A cacophony whose face is that of the 500,000 victims of genocide in Rwanda, of the millions of corpses bloodying the planet from Cambodia to Angola, from Mexico to Afghanistan.

In this same process of disintegration, the break-up of the ex-USSR has not yet run its course. The Russian Federation, which sought to be the last bulwark against the centrifugal forces that had carried off the old empire, finds itself confronted with these same forces within itself, as well as in Moldova, Tadjikstan, Georgia, Abkhazia, Tatarstan ... the massive intervention of the Russian army in Chechnya[1] expresses the will of a part of the Russian ruling class to put an end to these tendencies which are continuing to dislocate what was, five years ago, the most
extensive imperialist power on the planet.

But decomposition has reached such a level in the ex-USSR that this operation aimed at 'restoring order' is turning into a new source of internal chaos.

On the ground, the resistance to Russian intervention has been more violent and 'popular' than was foreseen. In an atmosphere of nationalist and anti-Russian hysteria within the population, the president of Chechnya, Dudayev, launched an appeal in the face of the Russian army advance, declaring that "the earth under their feet must bum! It's a war to the death!". The president of the Russian republic of Ingushia, another Caucasian
republic close to Chechnya, announced the threat of the extension of the conflict, proclaiming that "the war for the Caucasus has begun!"

From the start, the Russians met with fierce resistance which cost them dear in men and materials.

But this operation has also led to new fractures within the Russian ruling class itself, which is already well-rotted. At the battle front, right at the beginning, one of the Russian generals (Ivan Babichev) refused to advance on the capital Grozny and fraternized with the Chechen population: "It is not our fault that we are here. This operation contradicts the Constitution. It is forbidden to use the army against the people". At the time of writing, several other generals on the ground have rallied to this protest.

In Moscow the divisions are also dramatic. "In Russia today there are two Chechen conflicts, one in the Caucasus, and another, more dangerous one in Moscow" declared Emile Paine, one of Yeltsin's advisers. A number of 'celebrated' military figures have stood against the intervention, as well as Yeltsin's former prime minister, Egor Gaidar, and Gorbachev ...

For President Clinton the crisis in Chechnya is an "internal problem" and for Willy Claes, the general secretary of NATO, it's an "inside business". "It's not in the interest of the USA and certainly not of the Russians to have a Russia that is going towards disintegration" declared Warren Christopher on TV, on 14 December, showing the profound disquiet of the American bourgeoisie towards the problems of its ally.

But the problem is not so "internal" as one might be led to believe. On the one hand because Chechnya has a certain sympathy from foreign forces, in particular neighboring Turkey and, probably, from Germany. On the other hand because this situation is only a spectacular expression of a world-wide process.

This dramatic putrefaction of the situation in Russia is not simply, as liberal speechmakers would have it, the consequence of the damage done by Stalinism (fraudulently identified with communism); it is not a specificity of Eastern Europe. Russia is just one of the places where the generalized decomposition of world capitalism is most advanced.

The tendencies towards the reconstitution of blocs

A universe of imperialist brigands cannot exist without there being a tendency towards the constitution of gangs and gang leaders. The multiple conflicts between capitalist nations inevitably tend to structure themselves in line with the antagonisms between the most powerful ones. And, among these, the one between the two main bosses stamps its imprint on all the others: the opposition between the USA and a reunified Germany, between the former chief of the western bloc and the only serious pretender to the leadership of a new bloc. This conflict runs
through the political life of numerous countries.

For example: the summit of the Islamic Conference held in Casablanca in December 1994 could not avoid becoming a clash between the Islamic countries allied to the USA and those allied to Europe. From the beginning, the camp led by Hassan II of Morocco (the recognized spearhead of American diplomacy) and Egypt's Mubarak (the country in the world which, next to Israel, receives the most aid from America) made an attack on " certain Islamic states" which support terrorists and which have "sold their souls to the Devil" , ie to Iran and Sudan, whose links with European powers are well-known.

In Turkey, at the end of November 94, the minister of foreign affairs, the social-democrat Soysal, who is somewhat pro-European and anti-American, resigned from the government.

In Mexico, in the state of Chiapas where the Zapatistas are to be found, there are two governors: one from the PRI, the government party since 1929 which has always worked as a solid ally of the 'Yankee' big brother despite using an 'anti-imperialist' rhetoric; the other, Avendano, the governor allied to the Zapatistas, who refuses to recognize the election of the PRI candidate due to frauds, and who controls a third of the province's municipalities. The latter has declared that only Europe can give him the necessary support for him to triumph.

In Europe itself, the question of the choice between the American option and the Germano-European one has rent the ruling classes. In Britain, within the party in power, there's been a set-to illustrated recently by the fact that the 'Euro-skeptics' practically put Major in a minority in the House of Commons on the question of contributions to the European Union. Major even envisaged the possibility of a referendum on the question.

In Italy, a country that was long considered to be "America's aircraft carrier in Europe", but also as one of the pillars of the European Union, the war between the two camps has torn the political class apart, even if what's really at stake is usually kept hidden. However, Carlo de Benedetti, one of the main figures amongst the national bosses, did not hesitate to attack the pro-American Berlusconi government in explicit terms: "Italy is distancing itself from Europe and entering into a spiral of destruction". It's this basic antagonism which is at the root of the
country's current governmental instability.

In France's political class, now in the midst of a presidential election campaign, there are also profound divisions over this question, particularly in the parties of the governmental majority.

Because they are not faced with a choice of this kind, only the German and American bourgeoisies seem to be somewhat coherent at the level of their international policy, even if this is not without its difficulties.


Since the collapse of the USSR, Germany has made many advances on the international level: apart from its reunification, it has developed with some assurance its spheres of influence among the countries of central Europe, former members of the eastern bloc; it has intensified its links with countries as strategically important as Turkey, Iran or Malaysia; it has carried on building and enlarging the European Union, integrating new countries that are particularly close to it, such as Austria; in ex-Yugoslavia, it has imposed the international recognition of
its allies Slovenia and Croatia, which has opened up its access to the Mediterranean. The new reunified Germany has thus unequivocally affirmed that it is the only credible candidate for forming a new bloc opposed to that of the USA.

America's international policy has consisted of an offensive which has two main objectives: on the one hand, to preserve the dominant position of American capital; on the other hand, to systematically destroy the positions of its new European rivals.

The USA has been reaffirming its position as number one power by resorting to spectacular military operations, which often compel its former allies to line up behind it (Gulf war of 91, intervention in Somalia, invasion of Haiti, new operation in the Gulf in 94, etc); by keeping alive the international organisms formed at the end of the second world war to ensure its control over its allies, such as NATO, although the main targets of this tactic have not been taken in ("More than ever, the USA wants to make NATO an appendage of the State department and of Washington ". as a French diplomat declared recently[2]; by consolidating and fortifying its closest spheres of influence by creating 'free trade areas' such as NAFTA, which regroups the USA, Canada and Mexico, or the plan for areas regrouping the whole Pacific zone or the entire American continent (during December 94 Clinton convened two spectacular summits, first in Malaysia then in Miami, to get these projects off the ground).

Parallel to this the USA has been methodically attacking the spheres of influence of its former European 'allies', in particular the former colonial powers and principal military forces on the continent: France, but also Britain. The USA has thus chased France out of Lebanon, Iraq, and Rwanda, while severely threatening its positions in other black or North African countries (especially in Algeria where it has been supporting fractions of the Islamist movement); it has weakened the position of Britain in some of its former hunting grounds, such as South Africa and Kuwait.

If the blocs formed in the heat of the Second World War were for decades factors of relative stability, at least within their own ranks, today the fight for the constitution of new blocs is showing itself to be one of the main factors of instability and chaos.

The decomposition of international relations in decadent capitalism at the end of the 20th century is taking the form of the triumph of 'each against all' and the exacerbation of the law of the strongest.

The war in ex-Yugoslavia is the most significant focus of conflict in this period. 250,000 people killed, a million wounded a few hundred kilometers from the big industrial centers of Europe; fourteen countries militarily present under the flags of the United Nations[3]; five great powers (USA, Russia, Germany, France, Britain) using the multiple divisions within the local ruling class, exacerbated by the collapse of the USSR, to turn the country into a battlefield where the cannon-fodder is drawn essentially from the local inhabitants. From the grand hights of their 'Contact Group', these powers are pulling the strings that determine the evolution or the balance of forces on
the ground.

Who is behind who in ex-Yugoslavia?

"I know that the work of UNPROFOR was debatable. But the idea of the UN as an organization for peace above the nations pleased me a lot. J was rather naive. Now, J have the impression that, for five months, I have been helping the Serbs. I have the strong conviction that France is on the side of the Serbs, that France thinks that the mess in the Balkans will be lessened by a Serb-imposed stability"[4].

These words by a French bluehelmet aged 25[5] are a good summary of the contrast between the illusions of those who believed in the speeches of their governments about Yugoslavia and the sordid reality they discovered on the ground.

Since classes have existed, in order to mobilize the exploited into the butchery of war, the ruling classes have always had recourse to lies and mystifications. Religions and priests have always been the indispensable complement to the soldiers and the politicians. In our day, it is the totalitarianism of the media, the indoctrination of the masses, scientifically organized whether in the 'dictatorial' manner or in the more sophisticated forms used by 'democracy', which plays the role of recruiting cannon fodder and justifying massacres. The war in ex-Yugoslavia is no exception to this rule. But rarely has a war been covered up by such a quantity of lies and hypocrisy.

The powers involved all declare that they want peace and UNPROFOR claims to be "an organization for peace above the nations". But all of them are supporting and arming the parties involved in the conflict, without saying openly, even publicly declaring their hostility to a camp that they are secretly supporting.

In reality, behind the humanitarian and pacifist speeches each power is fuelling the war, if only to block alliances and advances made by its rivals. Thus, for example, the Pentagon has published a report which says that France is trying to keep up the conflict in ex-Yugoslavia in order to exacerbate antagonisms between the USA and Britain, which is certainly true; the USA and Britain also have an interest in the war carrying on in order to sharpen the opposition between France and Germany; Russia wants its status as a great power to be recognized and to this end
is playing on the rivalries between the western powers; as for Germany, which by supporting the independence of Slovenia and Croatia set a match to the powder, it only wants peace once the positions of its local allies have been favorably consolidated.

The veil of humanitarian and pacifist lies has been somewhat tom recently by the big confrontations over the Bihac enclave. This enclave, in the north of Bosnia, has a strategically crucial place in the heart of Krajina, that part of Croatia which is controlled by the Serbs. It is important for the Bosnians and the Serbs, but above all for the Croatians[6]. The importance of the stakes made it clearer than usual how the international powers
are participating in the war.

The USA overtly encouraged the Bosnian army to march on Bihac by unilaterally lifting the arms embargo to this country. This gave rise to a clamor of protest from the other powers, even though they have known for a long time that Washington has been secretly arming the Bosnians and even supplying it with "military advisers". The French minister of foreign affairs summarized the general reaction of the members of NATO to the gross liberties taken by the number one boss: "We regret that a permanent member of the Security Council has unilaterally exonerated itself from the application of a resolution which it had voted for and from decisions taken by common agreement within the Alliance "[7].

But the attitude of the French, just like that of their allies for now, the British, is no more in line with the decisions taken at diplomatic conferences. The impression of the French bluehelmet, that he was "helping the Serbs" when he was supposed to have been protecting the civil population against the latter, is not wrong. Two months ago the French government withdrew its bluehelmets from the Bihac enclave (they were replaced by inexperienced Bangladeshi troops), thus opening the door to the confrontations to come. Throughout the Serbian assault, the
troops of UNPROFOR, led by the French and the British, gave proof of a complicit impotence. On 5 December Izbegovic, the president of Bosnia, openly denounced the French and the British as "protectors of the Serbs". The American senator Robert Dole, future chief of the Republican majority in the Senate, declared that since the beginning of the conflict, the UN had done nothing but "help the Serb aggressors". The Croatian government has denounced Yashushi Akashi, the Japanese who is the special representative of the UN general secretary in ex-
Yugoslavia, as being "pro-Serb"[8].

In the face of these accusations, the French and British governments have once again been feigning outrage and threatening to withdraw their troops. The USA, which has always repeated that it could not allow itself to send a single one of its "boys" to Yugoslavia, seemed to do a backflip and declared that if this was the case it would be ready to send in 25,000 troops in order to assist an UNPROFOR retreat. "This is what allies are for", declared an American official[9]. It should be noted that Germany also rushed forward to offer its services, notably in the form of Tornado bombers, to help the French and British depart.

The events around Bihac have once again shown how the Americans are supporting Bosnia and the French and British are behind Serbia. What's more, the USA's declaration, as soon as the Serbs entered the town of Bihac, that" the Serbs have won the war in Bosnia", shows that it has not forgotten Croatia and its German ally. The position of the USA is clear: the Croats must accept the balance of forces imposed by the Serbs, they must make peace with the Serbs of Krajina, ie accept that the Bihac enclave, just like the third of Croatian territory which the Serbs conquered in the first part of the war, stay in Serbian hands. Thus the USA is using the Serbs against Germany. The recent 'private' voyage by Carter to discuss directly with the Serbs in Bosnia is an illustration of this.

There is nothing 'humanitarian' about the intervention of the great powers in ex-Yugoslavia. This is just a war for the most sordid imperialist interests. A war which, contrary to the litanies of the last three years, is far from moving towards a peaceful conclusion: the American offensive has met with strong resistance, and this can only lead to the intensification of conflicts. Furthermore, while Croatia has not carried out its threats to intervene, if it does do so, the conflagration will be even more general.


Capitalism in decomposition cannot live without wars, and wars like the one in ex-Yugoslavia cannot be eliminated without destroying capitalism.

It is vital that the proletariat understands the real nature of this new Balkans war. Not so much so that it is initiated into the analysis of imperialist strategies, but so that it is able to fight the feelings of powerlessness which the bourgeoisie tries to instill in the face of this conflict. To understand the decisive role played by the great powers in this war is to understand that the proletariat of the central countries has the possibility of stopping such madness. That it alone can offer a way out of the barbaric dead-end into which the decadence of capitalism has led humanity, and of which the war in ex-Yugoslavia is merely one of the more spectacular expressions.

RV, 27.12.94

[1] This little republic of the Russian Federation (a million and a half inhabitants, 13,000 square kilometers), situated in the Caucasus between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, with a Muslim majority, rich in oil, a traditional route for all kinds of traffic (especially in arms and drugs), to a large extent still organized through family clans which have their extensions into the mafia of Russia's big cities ... declared its independence in 1991. This independence was never recognized either by Russia or any other country. Since the summer of 1994, Russia has been fuelling a civil war, arming and piloting a movement of revolt by the Russian minority against Dudayev's regime.

[2] Liberation, 1.12.94  

[3] The UNPROFOR forces in Yugoslavia amount to 23,000 men in Bosnia-Herzegovina, with nearly 8,000 vehicles. The participating countries are Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the USA, Spain, Britain, France, Italy, Holland, Norway and Turkey, who are members of NATO, plus Pakistan, Bangladesh and Ukraine.

[4] Liberation, 13.12.94  

[5] This is the testimony of a young man doing his military service, but one who accepted to go "voluntarily into external action", ie he became a mercenary. The bourgeoisie of the main industrial powers cannot yet allow itself to send conscript troops into a military operation. It is not yet ready to make the exploited class, in countries with an old proletarian tradition pay the "blood tax".  

[6] The Croatian authorities declared from the beginning of the confrontations over Bihac that they could not accept the fall of the enclave: "We have said that if there is no negotiated solution in Bihac, given its strategic importance, given the number of refugees who would be entering our country, we would be obliged to intervene ... the west has forced us to not intervene up till now ... " (declaration of a high Croatian official, LeMonde, 29.11.94). "The Croatian army is ready for war, but this will take place at the most propitious moment, both internally and internationally" (declaration by the commander in chief of the Croatian army, Liberation, 30.11.94).

[7] Le Monde, 16.11. 94

[8] Akashi already showed this to be the case when the Serbs took Gorazde in April 94, in his refusal to call for air strikes to stop the Serbian offensive.

[9] International Herald Tribune, 9.12.94

General and theoretical questions: