Editorial: Elections in the USA and the Ukraine

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World capitalism in a dead-end

With slaughter continuing in Iraq and elsewhere across the planet, two elections took place in the spotlight of the world’s media, one in the United States and one in the Ukraine, the former remaining in the news for many weeks. As is the case with all elections, neither of these will provide any solution to the poverty and growing barbarism into which capitalism is plunging the proletariat and the exploited masses. But each, in its own way, demonstrates the impasse in which world capitalism finds itself. doesn’t Far from proving the good health of the world’s number one power and cold-war victor, the re-election of Bush has highlighted the difficulties of American imperialism, as reflected inside the US bourgeoisie. Fifteen years after the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the elections in the Ukraine are a moment in the struggle between the different imperialist powers for control over the region that opens up the prospect of growing chaos across the former USSR.


The war in Iraq: the main issue in the electoral campaign

The closer that election day came, the more the majority of media commentators, who in both the US and in a lot of other countries had made the case for a Kerry victory, forecast a very close result. Right up to the tense last moment the hopes of the world were seen by the media to be resting on the defeat of Bush who personified the unpopular war in Iraq. Nevertheless this was not based on anything tangible, since Bush and Kerry had identical programmes for prosecuting the war. Besides it is clear that the latter was spouting the same hysterical, ultra-patriotic rallying cries as his opponent: “For us, that flag is the most powerful symbol of who we are and what we believe in. Our strength. Our diversity. Our love of country. All that makes America both great and good. That flag doesn't belong to any president. It doesn't belong to any ideology and it doesn't belong to any political party. It belongs to all the American people” (Kerry’s address to the Democratic Convention in July).

In fact, the obvious disagreement between the two men was on issues like abortion, homosexuality, the environment or bio-ethics, which led to one being branded “conservative” and the other being labelled “progressive”. But that’s no problem, since it always benefits the bourgeoisie to highlight its differences in order to keep the exploited under the spell of elections. However, the anti-Bush clamour in the world’s media serves in actual fact to hide not simply different but indeed antagonistic interests between the different national factions of the world bourgeoisie.

For countries like France or Germany, who from the outset were especially hostile to an American intervention in Iraq since it would clearly obstruct their own imperialist interests, taking an anti-Bush line in these elections allowed them to continue their anti-American campaign to the outside world. By presenting the US president as personally responsible for aggravating world disorder, campaigns like these hide the responsibility of a system in crisis for spreading war and barbarism, and cover up the clearly imperialist nature of these bourgeoisies themselves. The desire of the latter to see the defeat of Bush in this election was nothing but pure hypocrisy; in effect he is their “best enemy”. Indeed, more than anything, he is the embodiment of all the false reasons that bourgeois propaganda uses for explaining the invasion of Iraq by the United States:

-         his family links to the Texan oil industry enabling him to profit from this war (sic!);

-         his family ties with the arms industry;

-         his attachment to the hawkish wing of the Republican party;

-         his religious fundamentalism;

-         his incompetence.

In other words, there is no one better than Bush as president for demonising the United States. That’s why, in spite of the anti-Bush rhetoric, the re-election of Bush has been a godsend to the United States’ main imperialist rivals.

It is for the same reasons that, after a long period of indecision, the main sectors of American bourgeoisie decided to support Kerry. Despite his numerous weaknesses, in particular his adoption of contradictory positions on the Iraq war, the dominant view inside the American bourgeoisie finally came out in his favour. This is because it was thought that he would be the best placed to restore American credibility in the world arena and to find a way out of the impasse in Iraq.  In addition, Kerry was considered best placed to convince the American population to accept new military incursions into other war zones.

For all these reasons, he had won the backing of retired high-ranking generals and admirals, whereas Bush was himself being abandoned by important individuals in his own party, who criticised him precisely for his management of the Iraqi crisis, and this only five weeks before election day. Kerry had equally benefited from the support he received in the media, particularly through coverage of the TV debates of him and Bush, where he was judged on each occasion to have bettered his opponent. Finally, the media brought out into the open a number of issues and concerns that compromised Bush’s image still further, notably leaks coming from members of the Administration itself that brought to light the errors and misdeeds of the Bush Administration, especially with regard to the Iraq war. It was divulged that the Administration made attempts to make secret modifications to the code of military justice, thus contravening the arrangements of the Geneva Convention. An anonymous source inside the CIA reported strong opposition within the Intelligence Agency to this violation of democratic principles. Another “regrettable” story concerned the disappearance of 380 tons of explosives in Iraq that American troops had failed to make secure and which probably fell into the wrong hands, so that they could be used against American forces. Just one week ahead of the election, sources in the FBI released details of a criminal inquiry into the preferential treatment received by Halliburton (where Vice President Cheney was the Chief Executive before the 2000 elections) in winning lucrative contracts in Afghanistan and Iraq, reached by mutual agreement. The media also presented in a sympathetic light the action of 19 American soldiers who refused to go on what they saw as suicide missions, driving oil tankers unescorted and vulnerable to attack across Iraq. Rather than depicting them as mutineers and cowards, these soldiers were presented in the media as brave and honourable but without the necessary supplies and weapons; and that corresponds exactly to how the Kerry campaign had been describing the situation for some weeks.

This is why Kerry’s defeat, despite the first class support given him, and even though the aspirations of some dominant sectors of the American bourgeoisie were with him, is significant of the difficulties of the ruling class at the domestic level. These in turn partly reflect the impasse faced by American imperialism in the world.

The American bourgeoisie’s difficulties

As we have often argued in our press, the crisis of world leadership obliges the American bourgeoisie to maintain a permanent offensive at the military level. This is the only way it can contain the impulses of its direct rivals to challenge its leadership. But in return, as the Iraqi quagmire shows, such a policy will only feed hostility toward the world’s first power everywhere and lead to its growing isolation.  Not being able to backtrack in Iraq, which would risk a considerable weakening of its global power, it is caught up in contradictions that are hard to handle. In addition to being a financial black hole, Iraq is the permanent target for the criticisms of its main imperialist rivals and a source of growing discontent for the American population. Today we are seeing the exhaustion of all the ideological benefits, both at the national and the international level, gained from the 9/11 attacks (which were allowed to take place by the top echelons of the American state apparatus,[1] so providing the pretext for intervening in Afghanistan and Iraq). The hesitation and dissension inside the American bourgeoisie in choosing the most suitable candidate are not an attempt to find another less aggressive imperialist alternative, but show the difficulty in carrying out the only strategy possible. The delay in the emergence of a pro-Kerry orientation from the American bourgeoisie has weakened its ability to manipulate the election result in this respect. And this is particularly the case in a country where right-wing Christian fundamentalism has a strong presence; by its nature this current is little influenced by the ideological campaigns against Bush. Indeed, these fundamentalists, shepherded by the local clergy, first appeared during the Reagan years as the basis of support for the Republicans and are characterised by their socially anachronistic conservatism.  They predominate in many of the least populated regions and in the rural States and they decide their voting on issues like homosexual marriage and abortion. Thus, an incredulous CNN commentator noted on the night of the election that despite the fact that an industrial state such as Ohio, which undoubtedly has many backward areas too, has lost 250,000 jobs; despite the fact that there is a disastrous war in Iraq and that Kerry won three face-to-face TV confrontations with Bush, social conservatism in Ohio won the election for the incumbent president.

This flight into religious fanaticism, in the US as elsewhere in the world, which constitutes a response to the development of chaos and social decomposition and a loss of hope in the future, is something that poses serious problems for the ruling class because it reduces its ability to control its own electoral game. It is all the more problematic, as the re-election of Bush tends to legitimise some practices inside the Executive apparatus which could harm the functioning and the standing of the democratic state, since some members of the presidential team, beginning with Vice-President Cheney, are accused of mixing up their own specific interests with those of the state. Cheney, who had been criticised at the beginning of 2001 for taking orders directly from Enron, was again in the hot seat for his links with Halliburton, where he had resigned as CEO to become Vice-President.

Indeed, he has continued since then to be handsomely remunerated for his various roles in this company, that makes military equipment and has been awarded reconstruction contracts in Iraq, and which has enjoyed highly favourable treatment when it comes to orders for supplies directly linked to the Iraq war. To make matters worse, Cheney has usually answered queries about this business in a very arrogant and peremptory way. It is evidently not the collusion between members of the Bush Administration and the armaments industry or the oil industry which explain the reason for the war in the Gulf, any more than the arms merchants, Krupp and Schneider, were the cause of the First World War. It is the left factions of the bourgeoisie that are generally responsible for this kind of mystification, which they used during the American election to discredit the Bush administration. Although the impact has not been sufficient to lead to the defeat of Bush, this episode demonstrates nevertheless the strong reaction that is aroused by factions of the bourgeoisie whose behaviour is prejudicial to the interests of the national capital as a whole. This was brought out, albeit in a different degree and in a different context, by the Watergate Scandal that led to Nixon being driven from power. Then his foreign policy also tended to displease more and more of the bourgeoisie since, in failing to bring the Vietnam war to a rapid end, he was holding back the establishment of the new alliance with China against the eastern bloc, for which he himself had already established the foundations. But above all, the governing clique used the state agencies (the FBI and CIA) to guarantee itself a decisive advantage over the other factions of the ruling class; that was considered intolerable by the latter, who felt themselves directly threatened by it.[1]

If we don’t know how the American bourgeoisie will solve the problems it is facing, one thing is certain: no matter whether a government is elected from the left or the right, it will in no way be able to bring about a peaceful world.


Great power manoeuvres in Eastern Europe

After the “Revolution of the Roses” in Georgia last year, where the “will of the people” democratically put an end to the corrupt regime of Shevarnadze, under Moscow’s control, it is the turn of the government in the Ukraine, equally corrupt and also under Moscow’s influence, to be faced with a similar fate as a result of another “popular rising”, this time dubbed the “Orange Revolution”. This event has also been another opportunity for the media to grind down the working class in every country by presenting the clamours for democracy in the best light possible:

The people are not afraid”; “We are able to speak freely”; “People who thought they were untouchable, are not anymore”. However, we have come a long way since the dirty campaigns around the death of communism that marked the different stages in the collapse of Stalinism.[2]  And for a very good reason: it is not in the name of so-called communism that some dictators have again defended the national capital at the helm of the state; and when such dictators have been replaced by more democratic teams, as in Georgia, the situation of the population has not changed; if anything, like everywhere else, it has continued to worsen.

Moreover, the imperialist stakes are so explicitly present that it is difficult for the media not to take them into account; all the more so because from one country to another, a different tone is adopted and the key concern is to use the language of truth about one’s rivals: “Human rights have always been a movable feast: they are talked about with regard to Kiev or in Georgia, much less when it comes to Uzbekistan or Saudi Arabia. This doesn’t mean that there was no issue of electoral fraud or that there is no democratic concern being expressed by the Ukrainians. The problem with Russia is precisely that it relies on unpopular, corrupt and authoritarian regimes. And that the USA is making a good job of defending democracy there… but with strategic ulterior motives. We saw this in 2003 with the Rose Revolution in Georgia. A very pro-American government was installed and I am not sure that the corruption has diminished much” (George Challand, French expert in geopolitics, in an interview entitled “An American strategy to push back Russia”, reproduced in Libération 6th December). In order to maintain its grip on neighbouring countries, Russia only has the means commensurate with its status: which means it has to sponsor teams who can only impose themselves through electoral fraud and crime (the attempt to poison Viktor Yushenko); whereas its rivals, and first and foremost the USA, while they may have no qualms about using the same methods, do so more discreetly, and have the means to sponsor and support more democratic teams. Russia hardly contests this reality as regards Ukraine even though it tries to present itself in a more favourable light: “This election has indeed shown the popularity of Russia: 40% of Ukrainians still voted for a twice-condemned oligarch, whose only quality was to have been the ‘Russian’ candidate” (Sergei Markov, one of the main advisers in Russian communications who supported the campaign of Viktor Yankovitch, in Libération 8th December).

What is being played out in the Ukraine at the moment is part of the dynamic that opened up with the collapse of the Eastern bloc. From the beginning of 1990, the different Baltic countries declared for independence. Even more serious for the Soviet empire was that on 16th July 1990, Ukraine, the second republic of the USSR, which had been linked to Russia for centuries, proclaimed its sovereignty. It was followed by Belarus, then by all the republics of Caucasia and central Asia. Gorbachev then tried to save something from the wreckage by proposing the adoption of a Union treaty which would preserve a minimum of political unity between the different components of the USSR., The failure of an attempted coup in defence of the old USSR on 21st December, was followed by the formation of the Community of Independent States, with a very vague structure, regrouping a certain number of the former components of the USSR; four days later it was dissolved. Since then Russia has continued to lose influence among the countries of the former Soviet bloc: in Central and Eastern Europe, all the members of the Warsaw pact have joined NATO, as have the Baltic states. In the Caucasus and central Asia, Russia is also losing influence. Worse still, its own internal cohesion is under threat. To avoid losing part of its territory to the moves towards independence among its Caucasian republics, Russia has had no choice but to respond with the savage war in Chechnya.

Today, the imperialist alignment of Ukraine is a major strategic, political and economic issue. This is a nuclear power with 48 million inhabitants, with nearly 1600 km of shared border with Russia. Moreover, “without close economic cooperation with Ukraine, Russia would lose 2 or 3 keys to its growth. Ukraine contains the ports though which our goods pass, the gas-lines through which we run our gas, and many hi-tech projects (…) it is the country with the main Russian naval base on the Black Sea, at Sebastopol” (Sergei Markov, ibid). With the loss of its influence over such a neighbour, Russia’s position in the region will be considerably weakened, all the more because this will also reinforce the positions of rivals like the USA.

The retreat of Russian influence has up till now mainly benefited the US because a pro-American government is in power in Georgia; here US troops have been stationed with the aim of strengthening the US presence in Khirgiztan and Uzbekistan, north of Afghanistan. Even if there are other powers seeking to place their pawns in Ukraine and the region, it is nevertheless the USA today which is once again the best placed to take the lion’s share, in particular through its collaboration with Poland, one of its best allies in Eastern Europe, which has a historic influence in Ukraine. Putin made precisely this point when, in a speech delivered in New Delhi on 5th December, he accused the USA of wanting to “remodel the diversity of civilisation, following the principles of a unipolar world not unlike a barracks”, and of wanting to impose “a dictatorship in international affairs underneath a fine sounding but pseudo-democratic phraseology”. And he was quick to remind the Iraqi foreign minister in Moscow on 7th December that the US was badly placed to give lessons on democracy, saying about the coming elections in Iraq that he couldn’t imagine “how you can organise elections in conditions of a total occupation by foreign troops”.

Anyone apart from Russia who wants to play a role in Ukraine has no choice but to surf on the “Orange wave” of the reformist team led by Yushenko, which has very close ties to Poland and the USA. This is why today the main rivals in the Iraq war, the USA on the one hand and France and Germany on the other, all support the reformists; at the same time, the allies of yesterday, Russia on the one hand and France and Germany on the other, defend opposing camps in the elections.

The American political offensive in Ukraine is part of the general offensive which this country has to wage on all fronts, military, political and diplomatic, if it is to defend its world leadership; in this context it has very definite objectives. In the first place, it is part of a strategy of encircling Europe, aimed mainly at blocking the expansionist ambitions of Germany, for whom the east of Europe is the “natural” axis of its imperialist expansion, as two world wars have shown. In the second place, it is aimed specifically at Russia in order to punish it for its attitude over the Gulf war, since it radically opposed American interests in company with Germany and France. It is certain that without Russia and its determined stance, France and Germany would have been much less open in their opposition to US policy. In order to prevent such a misadventure repeating itself, or at least to minimise its effects, the USA needs to deprive Russia - which nevertheless remains a potential ally on many questions (didn’t Putin support the Bush candidacy?) - of the last cards that would allow it to play at the table of the great and to restrict its status to that of a regional nuclear power, like India for example.

Towards an acceleration of chaos in eastern Europe and central Asia

The game being played out in the territory of the former USSR today cannot be understood as the simple transfer of influence over a country from one power to another. Nobody knows how far Russia is prepared to go in order to resist and to keep its domination, even if it is only over part of Ukraine. Can it abandon the Crimea and Sebastopol without this having major repercussions on the political stability of its regime? Would not a major reverse like this give the green light to all the demands for independence coming from the republics within Russia itself? Moreover, there are not just two vultures in dispute for this sphere of influence, but three, because it is obviously not in Germany’s plans to stay quietly in America’s shadow. We also know that the development of instability on the territories of the ex-USSR can only arouse the imperialist appetites of the regional powers, in this case Turkey and Iran, who see an opportunity to cash in on the situation. There is no clear scenario that allows us to answer these questions; there are several possible scenarios, all of which have in common the fact that, since the collapse of the Eastern bloc, the result of tensions between the great powers is always more and more chaos.

Similarly, whatever the ideological themes put forward by the bourgeoisie in order to assert its imperialist claims, they are never more than a pretext. The only explanation for the aggravation of tensions and the multiplication of conflicts is the fact that capitalism is sinking irreversibly into endless crisis. This is why the solution to this problem is not the installation of democracy, nor the search for national independence, nor the USA abandoning its desire for hegemony, nor any kind of reform of capitalism, but the destruction of this system world wide.

LC 20.12.04 

[1] We provided the framework for such a hypothesis immediately following the attacks on the Twin Towers. Subsequently, we have formulated a solid argumentation in support of this thesis (see our articles “In New York, as everywhere else, capitalism spreads death – who profits from the crime?” in International Review n°107 and “Pearl Harbour 1941, the Twin Towers 2001: the Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie” in International Review n°108). Today this analysis is largely confirmed by publications that we cannot otherwise suspect of having any sympathy with revolutionary positions. With particular regard to this subject, see the book The New Pearl Harbour; Disturbing questions about the Bush Administration and 9/11 by David Ray Griffin.

[1]. Read our articles “Notes on the history of imperialist policy in the United States since the Second World War” in International Review, n°113 and 114.

[2]. Read our article “The world proletariat faced with the collapse of the Eastern bloc and the bankruptcy of Stalinism” in International Review n°99.


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