International Review no.66 - Editorial

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One word is on everybody's lips concerning the present world situation: chaos. A chaos seen as a crying reality or as an imminent threat. The Gulf war has not opened the door to a 'New World Order'. It has merely allowed American capital to reassert its authority, in particular over its allies/rivals in Europe and Japan, and to confirm its role as the world's cop. But society is still caught up in an accelerating whirlpool of disorder, stirred up by the devastating winds of the open recession now hitting the big economic powers. 

Four months after the end of the war blood is still flowing in the Kurdish and Shiite regions of Iraq, the fires of war have not gone out. In the Middle East, behind the talk of peace conferences, military antagonisms are exacerbating and Israel has resumed bombing southern Lebanon. In the Soviet republics, armed conflicts are not being attenuated but are on the increase, concrete evidence that the old empire has fallen apart. In South Africa the black population, supposedly freed from apartheid, lives under the shadow of murderous confrontations between the ANC and Inkatha. In the slums of Lima cholera is spreading, interspersed by the bombs hurled by the Stalinist Shining Path. In South Korea, young people are burning themselves to death in protest against government repression. In India the assassination of the last of the Gandhis reveals the dislocation of the 'world's biggest democracy', which is being torn apart by caste, religious, and national conflicts. In Ethiopia, one of the areas of the globe hardest hit by famine, the collapse of the Mengistu government, which was abandoned by its Soviet protectors, has left the country in the hand of three rival armed nationalist gangs who aim to divide up the country. Yugoslavia is on the verge of breaking up under the pressure of daily confrontations between the different nationalities which compose it. In Algeria young unemployed people dragooned by the fundamentalists of the FIS are being sent to fight the tanks of the FLN government. In the ghettos of Washington, Bruxelles or Paris there has been a series of riots and sterile confrontations with the police. At the heart of Europe, in what used to be East Germany, capital is ready to throw nearly half the workforce onto the dole...

The ruling class cannot understand why society, 'its' society, is plunging irreversibly into a growing disorder in which war vies with poverty, dislocation with despair. Its ideology, the ruling ideology, has no explanation. It only exists to sing the glories of the existing order. In order to maintain its grip, it can only resort to lies and deliberately organized confusion. A confusion which expresses both the stupid historic blindness of the decadent bourgeoisie and the lying cynicism that it is capable of when it comes to protecting and justifying its decrepit 'order'.

War, as we have been reminded in the most horrible way by the events in the Gulf, remains the most tragic expression of this reality, in which organized lying goes hand in hand with the most barbaric chaos.

The Balance sheet of the Gulf war

With the most abject cynicism, the ruling classes of the Coalition countries, the American government at their head, have set about the task of making a travesty of the Gulf massacre. When the eastern regimes collapsed, they made a huge song and dance about the triumph of 'western democratic freedoms' over Stalinist obscurantism; but when it came to the Gulf war they organized the most colossal operation of lies and disinformation in history[1]. An operation marked both by the scale of the means used (the American government had at its disposal, among other things, a television network disseminating its poisonous propaganda 24 hours out of 24 all over the planet) and by the enormity of the lies themselves: Michael Deaver, former 'communications' advisor to Reagan and now a secretary general linked to the White House clearly defined the object to be attained: the war had to be presented as "a combination of Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars"[2].

This was done. The TV screens were inundated with images of the most sophisticated weapons and everything was done to give the impression that it was all a big Wargame. Not one picture of the victims of the deluge of fire which fell upon the Iraqi soldiers and civilians was allowed to disturb this ignoble spectacle of a 'clean war'.

The balance sheet of the war in Iraq is atrocious nonetheless. We will never know the exact number of victims on the Iraqi side[3]. But all the estimates count in hundreds of thousands. Probably nearly 200,000 killed among the soldiers: young peasants and workers, enrolled by force, a gun in their back, lined up en masse in front of the enemy, with the Republican Guard behind them, ready to shoot any deserters[4]. Nearly two thirds of the soldiers killed died during the aerial bombardments, buried alive in their bunkers; most of those who died during the land war were coldly massacred while trying to retreat. In the civilian population, the bombs must have taken a similar toll among the children, women, old people and others who escaped the forced enlistment.

The country has virtually been razed to the ground by the war. All the infrastructures were hit. "For the period to come, Iraq has been thrown back to a pre-industrial age" declared a UN commission of enquiry sent to Iraq in March. The state of the hospitals and the lack of medication will condemn to death thousands of wounded and the victims of epidemics resulting from the lack of food and water. This is the first result of the operation carried out by the 'heroic armies' of the western powers.

To this atrocious balance sheet you have to add the victims of the massacres of the Kurds and the Shiites.

Because at the very time that the American government was organizing the grotesque spectacle of a patriotic orgy in New York, in which the 'victors' of the Gulf butchery paraded between the skyscrapers of Broadway, in Iraq, the Kurdish and Shiite populations were still being subjected to bloody repression by the Saddam government.

What kind of victory was this? Didn't these soldiers go to the Gulf to stop the 'Hitler of the Middle East' from doing this sort of thing?

The reality, clearly confirmed by the declarations of the Kurdish nationalist leaders, is that it was the American government which coldly and cynically provoked the massacre of the Kurdish and Shiite populations[5]. And if Bush's team has kept the 'Butcher of Baghdad' in power it's because, among other things, he was the best man for doing this job, given his well-known talents in this domain. The massive destruction resulting from this repression, this time shown in detail by the media, was used to try to make us forget the destruction wrought by the Coalition. The allied armies, having sat doing nothing while this new butchery was going on, were now able to appear on all the TV screens of the world in the role of humanitarian saviors of the Kurdish refugees (see in this issue, 'The massacres and crimes of the 'great democracies'').

The barbarity of militarism and chaos, travestied by a huge machinery of ideological manipulation. This is what the Gulf war was, and this is the future that it announces.

For the exploited classes of the region, in uniform or not, the balance-sheet of the war is one of carnage in which they participated only as cannon fodder, as guinea-pigs for testing the efficiency of the latest and most sophisticated weapons. For the world proletariat, it is a defeat. Another crime by capital which it was unable to prevent. But it is also a lesson, a reminder of what lies in store if it does not manage to get itself together and put an end to this society.

The real victory of American capitalism

Things are very different for the criminals who provoked this war. For the American government, the mission of the soldiers sent to the Gulf was never to protect the local populations against the exactions of Saddam Hussein. Contrary to what they believed themselves, contrary to the propaganda of their governments, the one and only mission of the Coalition soldiers was to make a violent demonstration of force and determination on behalf of American capitalism. A bloody display of power, made indispensable by the international chaos which was unleashed by the collapse of the USSR and which threatened to undermine the position of the world's leading state[6].

It was the Washington government which wanted and provoked this war. It was its ambassador April Glaspie who, during her discussions with Saddam Hussein at the time when the latter was on the verge of invading Kuwait, declared that the USA was indifferent to the Iraq-Kuwait quarrel, which it considered to be "internal to the Arab world"[7]. Saddam was led to believe that the White House was giving the green light to his hold up.

For American capital, the stakes in this operation were much more important than control over Iraq-Kuwait or oil. The stakes were the whole world, the USA's place in a world tumbling into instability. The Soviet military threat, which had enabled the USA to keep the other powers in its bloc in line for 45 years, was no more. And the dust raised by the fall of the Berlin Wall had hardly fallen to Earth when the German and French politicians were already talking about the formation of a European military force, "more independent of the USA"; in Japan, the call for a revision of the constitution imposed by the American government at the end of the second world war, forbidding the Japanese from having a real army, was again rising to the surface...the main economic rivals and creditors of the USA were claiming a new place in the new situation, a new military and political place more in keeping with their economic power.

For the USA, the Gulf war had to be a brutal reaffirmation of its authority over the world, and above all over Europe and Japan. And from this point of view it was a real victory for the American Godfather, at least in the immediate. The events of the months which followed the war clearly illustrated this.


"The USA, drawing profit from its recent military victory, is in the process of transforming its advantage into a political victory on every continent."[8]

This is how Boucheron, the president of the defense commission of the French National Assembly, recently summarized the international situation. He knows what he is talking about. In Europe, after the Franco-German fanfares that questioned the role of NATO, all the powers have slunk back into line under the pressure of the Americans. The American military has even pushed through the formation of a 'rapid intervention force' within NATO, the bulk of whose forces will be located in Germany, but under the command of America's most faithful ally, Great Britain. For the latter, as for certain eastern countries newly acquired to western influence (Poland, Czechoslovakia), the major fear is of a reunified German capitalism, and they see the American presence as an effective antidote to this menace. The Japanese government has also lowered the tone of all its recriminations, and, like Germany, it has made its 'war contribution' to its great American rival.

As for the countries in the Japanese sphere of influence, they generally look favourably at American pressure in the region because they are afraid of the chaos that would result from Japan's rise to political and military strength. Bob Hawke, the Australian prime minister, openly came out in favour of maintaining American military presence in this part of the world in order to dissuade the regional powers "from acquiring new military capacities which could destabilize the region and unleash a new arms race within it."

The fear of chaos isn't limited to the American government alone. In affirming its role as the world's military and political policeman, the USA is intervening as a 'last resort' against the centrifugal tendencies developing all over the planet, and it is imposing its 'order' with unprecedented arrogance. In Iraq, it dealt with the Kurdish problem in the most cynical manner, ridding itself of the danger of an even greater destabilization of the region, which would have resulted from the political autonomy of a population which lives in five key countries in the region (Iraq, Syria, Turkey, USSR and Iran); in the USSR it refused any real support to the independence movement in the Baltic republics in order to avoid a further destabilization of the former 'Evil Empire'; it also exerts a direct hold over the Moscow government itself, using the pressure of economic aid (see the article 'The USSR in pieces' in this issue); in Ethiopia, which was faced with the threat of breaking up after the victory of the 'rebels', the same authoritarian policeman took it upon itself to organize the London conference which made it possible to form an Ethiopian government around the Tigreans of the EPRDF, and which pressed the Eritrean separatists and the Oromos to cooperate with the new power; in Yugoslavia it's again the US government which has threatened to suspend economic aid if the Serbian bourgeois clique doesn't change its attitude to Croat demands, a situation which is threatening to lead to the breakup of the country; in Pakistan Washington has stopped supplying conventional weapons and a part of its economic aid as long as the Islamabad government fails to provide proof that it is not building nuclear weapons; the American bourgeoisie has even forbidden China from selling Pakistan certain materials that could be used to this end.

This is the 'victory' feted by American capital: the immediate consolidation of its position as the world's number one gangster. It is a victory over its direct competitors, proof of its determination to limit certain aspects of the decomposition which threatens its empire. But the worldwide tendency towards chaos and barbarism will not be held back for all that.

The inevitable slide into chaos

The power of American capital may exert itself all over the planet and momentarily moderate this or that aspect of global chaos. But it cannot reverse the course of the gigantic torrent of blood and filth invading the planet. The new world disorder is not a fortuitous coincidence between different phenomena which are unrelated to each other, and which could therefore be solved one after the other. Behind the present chaos there is a logic, the logic of the advanced decadence of a form of social organization. As marxism and marxism alone analyzed and predicted (the same marxism which the ruling class believes, or would like to have us believe, has been buried with the remains of Stalinism), it's at the very heart of the capitalist relations of production that we can find the key to the impasse which condemns society to this apocalyptic situation.

The economic crisis of capitalism has more and more wiped out the economic capacities of the 'third world' countries. In May 1991, in the aftermath of the huge and destructive waste of the Gulf war, and when the big agricultural powers of the west were deciding to sterilize millions of acres of cultivatable land in order to cope with 'overproduction;', the secretary general of that den of gangsters, the UN, launched an appeal on behalf of Africa, where 30 million people are threatened by famine.

It's this same economic impasse which has led to the collapse of the worm-eaten edifice of state capitalism in the eastern bloc.

It's the economic crisis which, in the industrialized western nations, has led to the industrial desertification of entire areas, generalized job insecurity and unemployment. It's this crisis which is now going through a new acceleration, hitting the centre of the system with full force (see the article on the economic crisis in this issue).

The economic machine is exploiting a diminishing number of workers. A growing portion of society has been ejected from capitalist production, and is being atomized, marginalized, condemned to live by all kinds of little jobs or expedients. This is the generalization of poverty[9]. It's the decomposition of capitalism's social tissue.

Within the possessing class, the economic crisis is also synonymous with sharpening competition. Whether between nations or within each nation, competition is intensifying on the economic and military levels. Blind violence, military language more and more replace economic language. The war of each against all, a feature of capitalism since its beginning, is reaching a paroxysm in this final phase of the system. It's every man for himself in a world without a future.

Capitalist relations of production have become a historic aberration whose survival can only give rise to barbarism, as was the case with slave or feudal relations in their periods of decline. But unlike the past where new social relations (feudal ones after slavery, capitalist ones after feudalism) could begin to develop within the old order, the installation of a new society based on communist relations can only come about on the political ruins of the previous system.

Capitalist logic leads to the economic collapse of the system, but not to its supersession. This can only be the conscious and deliberate act of the world proletariat. If the working class does not manage to take its fight against capital to a revolutionary conclusion, if it does not concretely open up the perspective of a new society, we will not have communism but the barbarous putrefaction of the old capitalist society and the threat of the disappearance of the human species, either through world war, or through decomposition and generalized chaos. The resistance by the proletariat of the central countries against being ideologically dragooned by capitalism has prevented the crisis from leading to world war between two blocs, but it has not been able to slow down the resulting putrefaction of capitalist society. What we are living through today, what is at the source of all the chaos today, is the phenomenon of capitalism simply rotting on its feet, deprived of any perspective.

This is why the action of American capital, however powerful the means it has at its disposal, cannot really reverse this march towards the abyss.

On the level of inter-imperialist conflicts, the Middle East remains an unstable powder-keg in which despite Washington's strongman diplomacy, the explosion of new armed conflicts is inevitable. Already Israel has resumed bombing areas of southern Lebanon and keeps on replying to the pressures on it to 'trade territories for peace' with accusations against Syria for 'devouring Lebanon'[10]. The Gulf war has not brought a definitive peace; it merely demonstrated the means that American capital will use to maintain its supremacy.

As for the economic competition between nations, there are no grounds for thinking that it's going to grow any milder. The aggravation of the economic crisis can only exacerbate it. Here again the action of American capital has functioned as a show of strength to compensate for its weakness vis-a-vis its competitors[11]. "I don't believe that US leadership should be limited to the areas of security and politics. I think that it also has to extend to the economic domain"[12]. This declaration by J Baker does not herald a conciliatory attitude by American capital, but, once again, the method it will use to face up to the economic war.

Whether on the political/military level or the economic level, the perspective is not one of peace and order but war and chaos between countries.

But the tendency towards disintegration also expresses itself within each nation. Whether we're talking about the dislocation of the USSR, of Yugoslavia, of India, of Ethiopia or the majority of African countries, the ravages of poverty and the war to the death between each clique of the capitalist class can only intensify. And a few crumbs of 'humanitarian' aid by the USA or some other power won't reverse the underlying tendencies that are tearing these countries apart.

The class struggle

There can be no struggle against chaos and the dislocation of society unless there is an attack on the source of all this: capitalist social relations. And only the struggle of the proletariat can be an irreconcilable fight against capital. Only the antagonism between labor and capital has the historic and international dimension that is indispensable if there is to be a response to a problem on this scale.

The future of humanity depends on the outcome of the struggle between the workers and the bourgeoisie in all countries. But this in turn depends on the capacity of the workers to recognize the real struggle they have to wage. If the proletariat does not manage to escape from the chaotic whirlpool which causes it to split up along religious, racial, ethnic or other lines, if it does not manage to unite itself by imposing the class terrain as the only terrain worth fighting on, the door will be wide open to the acceleration of chaos and decomposition.

In the underdeveloped countries, where the class is in a minority and has less traditions of struggle, the workers have much more difficulty in escaping the grip of these archaic divisions that are so alien to the class struggle. In the eastern countries, despite all the combativity that has been evident in recent months (in particular with the miners of the USSR and a number of sectors in Bylo-Russia), the working class is weighed down by all the current nationalist, democratic, and of course 'anti-communist' mystifications.

It's in the central countries of western capitalism that the antagonism between capital and labor exists in its most direct and complete from. The working class there represents the majority of the population and its historical experience is the richest, both as regards the mystifications of the bourgeoisie and its own mass struggles. Here are located the decisive battalions of the world proletarian army. The opening up of a new horizon for the workers of the entire world depends on the capacity of the workers in these countries to spring the traps laid by capitalist decomposition (competition faced with the threat of unemployment, conflicts between workers of different national origins, the marginalization of the unemployed), on their ability to clearly affirm their irreconcilable opposition to capital.


The Gulf war gave rise to a deep disquiet in the world population and in particular in the proletariat of the industrialized countries. The end of the conflict engendered a feeling of relief, reinforced by the gigantic ideological campaigns about the new era of peace, the 'new world order'. But this feeling can only be relative and short-lived as the dark clouds of chaos gather all over the planet and upset the 'optimistic' speeches of the ruling class. Nothing could be more dangerous for the revolutionary class than forgetting what the Gulf war was and what it heralds. In the face of the aggravation of the economic crisis and all the attacks on workers' living conditions that go with it, in the defensive struggles that these attacks will provoke, it is crucial that the working class is able to benefit from all the reflection that this disquiet about the war has given rise to. The class will only be able to raise its consciousness, understand the real dimensions of its struggle and carry out its historic task if it looks reality in the face, if it refuses to be 'consoled' by the seductive speeches of the ruling class, and if it rediscovers its revolutionary program and its principal weapon of political combat - marxism.





[1] Since the First World War, the manipulation of opinion has been seen by the capitalist class as the job of the government. During the 30s, with fascism in Italy and Germany, with Stalinism in the USSR, but also and above all with the more subtle Hollywood democracy of the USA, this has become a truly gigantic enterprise, the major concern of every political leadership. Goebbels, the master of Hitlerite propaganda, cynically summed up the method that was being adopted by every government on the planet: "a lie repeated a thousand times becomes a truth".

[2] Le Monde Diplomatique, May 1991.

[3] The military spokesmen remained systematically vague or silent when questioned on this point "We are not here to discuss the pornography of war" a British colonel replied during a press conference on the balance-sheet of the war (Liberation, 26 March, 91). The official figures for losses on the allied side are on the other hand very precise: 236 men, including 115 Americans, plus another 105 in transport accidents on the way.

[4] We know now that there were massive desertions from the Iraqi army and that this led to ferocious repression by Saddam's elite corps.

[5] It has been proved that American planes dropped leaflets in the Kurdish zones at the end of the war, calling for an uprising against Saddam's regime, and that American officers encouraged the leaders of the Kurdish bourgeois nationalist movements to launch this adventure.

[6] When we say that the US Empire undertook this war to fight against chaos, we are sometimes accused of presenting the war as a 'disinterested' action by the American leaders. But we don't think that the USA was acting altruistically just because the most sordid and selfish interests of the USA are opposed to a disorder that would threaten its dominant position in the world. Those who benefit from an existing order always oppose those who call it into question. For a more developed analysis of the causes of the war, see nos 63, 64 and 65 of this review.

[7] cited by Claude Julien in Le monde Diplomatique, October 1991

[8] cited by J Fitchett in Herald Tribune, 12/6/91

[9] Marx's analysis predicting the "absolute pauperization" of society, which during the 1960s was so decried by the so-called theoretical gravediggers of marxism, is today being confirmed in a striking and tragic manner.

[10] American capital has no illusions on this score. Thus, at the same time as it was piling the pressure on Israel to take up a more conciliatory stance vis-a-vis its Arab neighbors, the USA decided to supply the Israeli state with major new stocks of weapons: 46 F-16 fighters, 25 F-15s, in all 700 million dollars worth of weaponry, transmitted directly from the USA's 'arms surplus'. The new weapons stocks will be able to be used by the armies of both states. What's more the USA is financing 80% of Israel's anti-missile missile program.

[11] Without losing a sense of proportion, the USA has been in a comparable position to that of the USSR, with an economy weaker than that of its main vassals. This is to a large extent due to the weight of military expenses which the head of a bloc inevitably has to bear (see 'What point has the crisis reached' in IR 65)

[12] Herald Tribune, 21/2/91.


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