War without end in the Middle East: capitalism is the real culprit

Printer-friendly version

All the great leaders of the capitalist world invited us to commemorate, with them, the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy on 6th June 1944. As one man, Bush, Putin, Schröder, Blair, Chirac... the allies and enemies of yesteryear, in a moving spirit of unity, invited us to remember what, according to them, was a heroic epic in defence of liberty and democracy. The ruling ideology would have us believe, that these one-time allies and enemies have reflected on their past errors and corrected them, so that now it is possible to live in a world at peace, stable, and controlled. This world of peace – this “new world order” - is what we were promised already after the collapse of the Eastern bloc in 1989.

And yet, the 1990s have witnessed not only a continued development of military barbarism, but an increasing world wide social instability. The collapse of the Eastern bloc, which represented about a sixth of the world economy, marked capitalism's complete entry into its phase of decomposition. Imperialist tensions are no longer polarised by the confrontation between the Eastern and Western blocs but this does not mean that they have disappeared. They have taken the form of a war of each against all, unleashing armed conflict across the planet on a scale unseen since World War II. The perspective of peace and prosperity announced by the dominant American power has long since disappeared, to give way to the nightmare of a society tearing itself apart across the world, at the risk of dragging all humanity down to its ruin. Although this aspect of a “war of each against all” was already a determining feature of the first Gulf War in 1991, it remained hidden inasmuch as the USA succeeded in rallying the other great powers behind its leadership thanks to its remaining authority. The war of each against all, the defence by each power of its own imperialist interests to the detriment of its rivals, appeared more explicitly in the conflicts in Rwanda, ex-Yugoslavia, and Zaire. And the new millennium has seen a further intensification of these conflicts. After the 9/11 attack, the United States solemnly announced that they would make war on terrorism, free Afghanistan from the backward Taliban, and bring democracy and prosperity to Iraq. Today, the result is an increasingly bloody instability spreading not only to Iraq but to the rest of the region as well. What is new, is that the planet's greatest military power is beginning to lose its grip on the situation. The triumphant images of US troops entering Baghdad and overturning Saddam's statue, have been succeeded by daily killings that demonstrate the Americans' inability to stabilise the situation in which the population is subjected to appalling living conditions.

The bitter struggle between local warlords, more or less tied to different world or regional powers, already dominates Iraq and Afghanistan and is now beginning to spread to Saudi Arabia, with a wave of attacks on foreigners, oil installations, and the government. Instability in Saudi Arabia threatens the world's main source of oil (25% of proven world reserves), and creates a further risk for an already unstable world economic situation: that of an explosion in oil prices, already standing (as we write) at over $40 / barrel. The dynamic is such that even the great powers are no longer able to imprint their orientation on society, still less to offer it the slightest perspective.

The heart of Europe has not been spared the eruption of chaos in its midst, with the bomb attacks in Madrid on 11th March 2004. All this is an expression of “the world’s entry into a period of unprecedented instability” (Introduction to the “Theses on Decomposition”, 1990, in International Review n°107), which is accelerating today. In fact, the 1991 Gulf War already demonstrated that “faced with the tendency towards generalised chaos specific to the period of decomposition, and which has been considerably accelerated by the collapse of the Eastern bloc, there is no other way out for capitalism, in its attempts to hold together a disintegrating body, than to impose on society the iron straitjacket of military force. In this sense, the very means it uses to try to limit an increasingly bloody chaos are themselves a factor aggravating the barbarity of war into which capitalism is plunged” (“Militarism and decomposition”, International Review n°64).

Is the Bush administration the fundamental cause of the disaster in Iraq?

The anti-Bush demonstrators, and all the honeyed words to the UN from powers like France and Germany, even the cries of despair from some fractions of the bourgeoisie in the United States, all propose to reverse this tendency and return to a stable world thanks to governments that would be less greedy and cynical, more generous and intelligent.

The bourgeoisie would indeed like to make us believe that peace and stability depend on those who rule us. In this sense, the preferred argument for the various national bourgeoisies who opposed the war in Iraq – because it went against their interests – is to say that if only Bush had respected “international law”, if he had respected the legitimacy of  the UN, then Iraq would not have become the bloody quagmire that it is today, and the United States would not be in the mess it is in. Although the American bourgeoisie was generally in favour of the war, more and more voices are being raised to say that the present situation is the result of the incompetence of Bush and his administration, who have proven unable to stabilise Iraq. In fact, both these arguments are false. For the ruling class, they are born of a need to deceive, and to deceive themselves. Today's spreading anarchic instability is a pure product of capitalism's historic situation today. It has nothing to do with any one person's greater or lesser competence or personality. In reality: “As regards the international policy of the USA, the widespread use of armed force has not only been one of its methods for a long time, but is now the main instrument in the defence of its imperialist interests, as the ICC has shown since 1990, even before the Gulf war. The USA is faced with a world dominated by "every man for himself", where its former vassals are trying to withdraw as much as possible from the tight grip of the world cop, which they had to put up with as long as the threat from the rival bloc existed. In this situation, the only decisive way the US can impose its authority is to resort to the area in which they have a crushing superiority over all other states: military force. But in doing so, the US is caught in a contradiction:

–         on the one hand, if it gives up using or extending the use of its military superiority, this will only encourage the countries contesting its authority to contest even more;

–         on the other hand, when it does use brute force, even, and especially when this momentarily obliges its opponents to rein in their ambitions towards independence, this only pushes the latter to seize on the least occasion to get their revenge and squirm away from America's grasp” (“Resolution on the international situation at the 12th ICC Congress”, International Review n°90, 1997).

To lay the responsibility for war at the door of this or that head of state's incompetence, allows the ruling class to hide the reality, to hide the appalling responsibility of capitalism and with it the whole ruling class world wide. This logic makes it possible to absolve the system for its crimes by laying the blame on its scapegoats: Hitler's madness was responsible for World War II; Bush's incompetence is responsible for the war in Iraq and its attendant horrors. In reality, in each case the man, his temperament and his specificities, corresponds to the demands of the ruling class that put him in power. Both have done nothing other than apply the policies required by their class, in defence of their class interests. Hitler received the support of the whole German ruling class because he showed himself capable of preparing the war rendered inevitable by the crisis of capitalism and the defeat of the revolutionary wave that had followed October 1917. The German rearmament programme of the 1930s, followed by the World War against the USSR and the other Allies, was both inevitable, given the situation of Germany after the Versailles Treaty of 1919, and doomed to failure. It was, in this sense, profoundly irrational. Hitler's unbalanced mentality – or rather, the fact that such a mentality could become head of state – was nothing other than an expression of the irrationality of the war that the German bourgeoisie was preparing to wage. The same is true for Bush and his administration. They are, today, carrying out the only possible policy, from a capitalist standpoint, to defend US imperialist interests and world leadership: war, and a descent into militarism. The incompetence of the Bush administration, notably the influence within it of the neo-con warmongering faction represented by Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, its inability to find a long-term vision on which to base its action, are expressions of the fact that the White House's foreign policy is both the only one possible, and doomed to failure. The fact that Colin Powell, also a member of the administration and one who knows what war is about, had his warnings about the lack of preparation for the conflict and its aftermath ignored, is further confirmation of this tendency to irrationality. The whole US bourgeoisie defends a militarist policy because it is the only one possible. Indeed, the disagreements within the US ruling class, faced with the catastrophe that the situation in Iraq represents for the credibility and world leadership of the United States, are purely of a tactical order, but in no sense a condemnation of the war itself. So true is this, that John Kerry, Democratic candidate at the next presidential elections, has no alternative policy to propose other than reinforcing the American troops already in Iraq. If the choice and success of government policy depended solely on the capacities of those in power, how could we explain the fact that the imperialist policy of Ronald Reagan – no less intellectually disadvantaged than Bush – encountered such success against Russian imperialism, especially in Afghanistan? The reason is to be found in the different underlying conditions: because, under Reagan, the USA was at the head of one of two rival imperialist blocs that dominated the world, and as a result enjoyed a far greater authority over the other members of its bloc. As for the “peace party” over Iraq, the attitude of Chirac or Schröder has nothing to do with their greater human or political qualities compared with Bush, and everything to do with the fact that war in Iraq directly threatened their own imperialist interests. For Germany, the fact that the USA has taken position in the region is an obstacle to its own advance into the region, which has always been a traditional target of German imperialism. France has been stripped of the influence it had in Iraq on the basis of its support for Saddam Hussein. It is not the capacities of those with influence in the bourgeois state, still less their good or ill will, that will put an end to war, but the class struggle.

The policy of the bourgeoisie is solely and implacably determined, in every country, by the defence of the national capital. To this end, it puts in power those who seem best able to meet its requirements. And if Kerry replaces Bush as president, this will be to breath new life into a policy which will remain essentially the same. Changing governments will not put an end to war: only destroying capitalism can do that.

Neither the planned (as we write) transfer of sovereignty to an Iraqi government, nor the unanimous UN vote in favour of this transfer, herald any greater stability in the future. No more than the project for a “Greater Middle East”. Still less the grand celebrations of the D-Day landings and all the declarations of good intentions that accompanied them.

Is Europe an antidote to world disorder?

Could Europe be an antidote to this disorder, or at least limit its extent? At the entry of the new member countries to the European Union, on 1st May 2004, and during the last European elections, France and Germany presented the construction of Europe as a factor for peace and stability in the world. If Europe could unite, this would be a guarantee of peace, so we are told. This is a lie. Supposing that all the states of Europe managed to march in step, a European bloc would also be a factor of world conflict, because it would be a rival to the United States. The proposed European constitution in fact expresses, in veiled terms, the ambition of certain states to use the European Union in order to play a role on the world imperialist arena: “Member States shall actively and unreservedly support the Union's common foreign and security policy in a spirit of loyalty and mutual solidarity and shall comply with the acts adopted by the Union in this area.  They shall refrain from action contrary to the Union's interests or likely to impair its effectiveness” (Article 15-2 of the Draft Treaty[1]). Such an orientation can only be a threat to America's leadership, and this is why the US is constantly putting spanners in the works of the construction of any kind of European unity, for example by supporting the Turkish candidature for membership of the Union. This being said, European unity only exists at the level of propaganda. To have an idea of the absurdity of the notion of a “European bloc”, we need only look at the reality of the European Union: the European budget is a puny 4% of European GNP, most of which is destined not for military spending but for the Common Agricultural Policy; there is no military force under European command capable of vying with NATO or the American armed forces. Nor does the EU include a military super-power able to impose its will on the other members (one expression of this is the cacophony that reigns in the negotiations for the adoption of the new constitution).[2] To cap it all, the policy of one of the main members of the Union, Britain, is aimed precisely (as it has been for the last 400 years) at maintaining divisions amongst the other European powers, its “allies” within the EU. In these circumstances, any European alliance can never be anything but a temporary and necessarily unstable agreement. The wars in Yugoslavia and Iraq have highlighted the disintegration of Europe's political unity as soon as the imperialist interests of its various member bourgeoisies are at stake. If there is currently a tendency for countries like Spain or Poland, or others in Central Europe, to turn towards Germany, then this can only be limited in time, as indeed are the different episodes in the on-off love affair between France and Germany. Whether the tendency of the moment is towards political union or towards open discord, the underlying exacerbation of tensions between the European Union's member states cannot be overcome. In the context of the bankruptcy of capitalism and the decomposition of bourgeois society, reality demonstrates that the only possible policy for each major power is to try to create difficulties for its rivals in order to gain the advantage for itself. This is the law of capitalism.

The growing, spreading anarchy and instability are not a specificity of this or that backward or exotic region: they are the product of capitalism in its present, irreversible phase of decomposition. And since capitalism dominates the planet, then it is the whole planet which is increasingly subject to chaos.

What perspective is there for humanity's future?

Only the world proletariat bears a perspective in itself, since it is not only the exploited class, but above all the revolutionary class in this society: in other words, the class which bears in itself other social relations free of exploitation, war, and poverty. Condensing within itself every misery, every injustice, and every exploitation, it potentially wields the force to overthrow capitalism and build a truly communist society. But if the working class is to live up to what history demands of it, then it must understand that war is a product of bankrupt capitalism; that the bourgeoisie is a cynical and deceitful class of exploiters, whose greatest fear is that the proletariat should see reality as it is, and not as it is presented by the exploiters. Only the development of the class struggle, for the defence of the workers' living conditions and, ultimately, the overthrow of capitalism, will allow the proletariat to hold back the bloody hand of the bourgeoisie. Let us remember that it was the class struggle of the workers of the early 20th century that put an end to World War I. The proletariat has a great historical responsibility before it. The development of its consciousness of what is at stake, and of its unity in struggle, will determine its ability to live up to this responsibility. The future of all humanity depends on it.


G. 15/07/2004

[2] The new constitution is itself a defeat for the “federalists” who hoped to see a greater degree of European unity, since it avoids any notion of creating a real “European government” in favour of the existing inter-governmental snake-pit.