War in Lebanon and Iraq: There is an alternative to capitalist barbarism (Editorial)

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Faced with the war that is ravaging the Middle East, and with the recent conflict which has bathed Lebanon and Israel in blood, the position of revolutionaries must be completely unambiguous. This is why we fully support the rare internationalist and revolutionary voices that are raised in this region, such as the Enternasyonalist Komunist Sol group in Turkey . We have published this group’s position statement on the situation in the Lebanon and Palestine in various organs of our territorial press. In it they firmly reject any support for the cliques and factions of the rival bourgeoisies that are fighting it out and whose immediate victims are millions of proletarians, be they Palestinian, Jewish, Shi'ite, Kurdish, Druze or whatever. It states quite correctly that “imperialism is the natural policy carried out by any national state or any organisation that functions as a national state.” It also denounces the fact that “in Turkey, as in the rest of the world, most leftists gave total support to the PLO and Hamas. In the most recent conflict they have all said with one voice ‘we are all Hezbollah’. By following this logic, which holds that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, they fully supported this violent organisation which has pushed the working class into a disastrous nationalist war. The support that the leftists give to nationalism shows us why they do not have much to say that differs from what is said by the MPH (national movement party – the fascist grey wolves) (…) The war between the Hezbollah and Israel and the war in Palestine are both inter-imperialist wars and the various camps involved use nationalism to drag the working class of their region into their camp. The more that workers are sucked into nationalism, the more they lose their ability to act as a class. That is why Israel, Hezbollah, the PLO and Hamas should not be supported in any circumstances.” This shows that the proletarian perspective lives and is still affirmed. This can be seen not only through the development of working class struggles throughout the world: in Europe, the United States, Latin America, India and Bangladesh but also through the appearance in various countries of small groups and politicised elements trying to defend internationalist positions. Such positions are the hallmark of proletarian politics.

The war in the Lebanon last summer represented a new stage covering the whole of the Middle East in blood and flame and pushing the planet further into the grip of increasingly uncontrollable chaos. All the imperialist powers within the so-called “international community”, from the biggest to the smallest, have contributed to this war. 7,000 aerial attacks on Lebanese territory alone, not to mention the innumerable rocket strikes on northern Israel, more than 1,200 deaths in Lebanon and Israel (300 of which were children under 12 years old), nearly 5,000 wounded, a million civilians who had to flee from the bombs or combat zones. Others, too poor to flee, dug themselves in as best they could, terror in their hearts… Districts and villages have been reduced to ruins; hospitals are overworked and full to bursting point. This is the balance sheet of a month of war in Lebanon and Israel following the Tsahal offensive to reduce Hezbollah’s powerful hold and in response to one of the numerous murderous attacks of Islamic militia beyond the Israeli-Lebanese border. The destruction is estimated at 6 billion euros, not counting the military cost of the war itself.

Brutally and relentlessly, the Israeli state has thrown itself into a veritable scorched earth policy against the civilian population in the villages of South Lebanon. The latter have been carelessly chased off their land, out of their homes, starved to death. They have no drinking water and are exposed to the most terrible epidemics. There are also 90 bridges and countless communication routes that have been systematically cut (roads, motorways…), three power stations and thousands of homes have been destroyed. The pollution is overwhelming and the bombardments incessant. The Israeli government and its army have never stopped declaring that they want to “spare civilians” and a massacre like the one in Canaan was called a “regrettable accident”. This is reminiscent of the famous “collateral damage” during the wars in the Gulf and in the Balkans. However it is in the civilian population that the bulk of the victims are to be found: 90% of those killed!

As for Hezbollah, although their means are more limited and therefore less spectacular, they have carried out exactly the same murderous and bloody policy of random bombing. Its missiles fell on the civilian population and the towns in the north of Israel (75% of those killed were actually part of the Arab population that they pretend to protect).

They are all war mongers

Hamas' arrival in power in the Palestinian territories was itself an expression of the political impasse in the Middle East. The intransigence of the Israeli government contributed to this victory by “radicalising” a majority of the Palestinian population and the open splits between fractions of the Palestinian bourgeoisie, mainly between Fatah and Hamas prevented any solution through negotiation. In the face of this impasse, Israel’s reaction was one that is increasingly favoured by every state in today’s world: it leapt in headlong. In order to reassert its authority Israel launched an attack with the intention of blocking the growing influence in South Lebanon of Hezbollah, which is aided, financed and armed by the Iranian regime. The first pretext given by Israel for starting the war was that it was to liberate two Israeli soldiers taken prisoner by Hezbollah. Four months after they were taken, they are still prisonersShi'ite. The second, was the need to “neutralise” and disarm Hezbollah, whose incursions from South Lebanon are a permanent threat to Israeli security.

The war ended in a serioussetback for Israel, brutally exploding the myth of the invincibility and invulnerability of its army. Civilian and military members of the Israeli bourgeoisie blame the fact that the war was badly prepared. Hezbollah by contrast came out of the conflict strengthened and has gained new legitimacy in the eyes of the Arab populations because of its resistance. At the beginning Hezbollah, like Hamas, was just one of the innumerable Islamic militia formed against the state of Israel. It was formed at the time of the Israeli offensive in South Lebanon in 1982. Because of its Shi'ite component it prospered under the copious financial support of the Iranian ayatollahs and mullahs. Syria also made use of it, giving it important logistic support which enabled it to create a rear base when it was forced to withdraw from Lebanon in 2005. This band of blood-soaked killers has patiently created a network of recruiting sergeants under the cover of  providing medical, health and social aid, helped by generous funds drawn from the oil revenue of the Iranian state. These funds also enable it to finance the repair of houses destroyed or damaged by bombs or rockets in order to enrol the civilian population into its ranks. According to some reports, this “shadowy army” includes children between 10 and 15 years old, who serve as cannon fodder in these bloody settlings of accounts.

At the moment Syria and Iran form the most homogenous bloc around Hamas and Hezbollah. Iran in particular clearly has ambitions to become the main imperialist power in the region. The possession of atomic weapons would guarantee it this role. This is understandably one of the big concerns of the American super power since the “Islamic republic” has, from its foundation in 1979, shown permanent hostility towards the United States.

So it was with the green light from the US that Israel launched its offensive against Lebanon. Buried up to its neck in the mire of the Iraq and Afghan wars and following the failure of its “peace plan” to solve the Palestinian question, the United States' strategy to establish a “Pax Americana” in the Middle East is a patent failure. In particular the American presence in Iraq over the last three years is directly responsible for a horrific civil war between rival factions, with 80-100 deaths per day among the civilian population. In this situation it was out of the question for the United States to intervene in person although their objective in the region is to attack those countries that they denounce as “terrorist” and the incarnation of the “axis of evil”. For them this means Syria and, above all Iran, which supports  Hezbollah. The Israeli offensive, which was supposed to act as a warning to these two states, shows the perfect convergence of interests between the White House and the Israeli bourgeoisie. This is why Israel’s failure also means a new retreat for the United States and a continued weakening of American leadership.

The cynicism and hypocrisy of all the big bourgeoisies

A high point of cynicism and hypocrisy was reached by the UN, which during the month long war in the Lebanon never stopped proclaiming its “desire for peace”, while adding that it was “powerless”[1]. This is a disgusting lie. This “thieves’ den” (to use Lenin's term for the UN’s predecessor, the League of Nations) is the swamp in which wallow the most monstrous crocodiles of the planet. The five permanent members of the Security Council are the foremost states that prey on the planet:

  • The United States, whose hegemony resides in its having the most powerful military armada in the world and whose warlike escapades since Bush senior’s announcement in 1990 of a “period of peace and prosperity” speak for themselves (the two Gulf wars, the intervention in the Balkans, the occupation of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan).
  • Russia, which has been and is responsible for the most appalling atrocities during the two wars in Chechnya, has taken the implosion of the USSR badly and dreams of revenge. Today it is revealing new imperialist pretensions by taking advantage of the weakening of the United States. This is why it is playing the card of support for Iran and, more covertly, for Hezbollah.
  • China, taking advantage of its growing economic influence, dreams of gaining new zones of influence outside South East Asia. In particular it is trying to woo Iran, a privileged economic partner from whom it buys oil at a particularly advantageous price. The latter two powers have continually tried to sabotage the resolutions of the UN, to which they themselves belong.
  • Great Britain, which up to now has accompanied the United States on its main punitive expeditions in order to defend its own interests, is trying to re-conquer the zone of influence it once held by means of its old protectorate in the region (Iran and Iraq in particular).
  • The French bourgeoisie looks back with nostalgia at the period in which it divided up zones of influence in the Middle East with Great Britain. This is why it rallied to the American plan for the Lebanon as author of the famous UN resolution 1201, even drawing up the plan for the deployment of the UNIFIL. It is also why it agreed to raise the number of its troops committed to the UNIFIL force in South Lebanon from 400 to 2,000.

Other powers have also entered the lists, such as Italy which, in exchange for a larger contingent of UN forces, in February 2006 was given the supreme command of the UNIFIL in Lebanon. Only a few months after the withdrawal of Italian troops from Iraq, Romano Prodi, having harshly criticised the Berlusconi government's commitment there, offered the same number for Lebanon. This confirms the ambition of Italy to sit at the table of the big powers, even at the risk of getting its fingers burned again. All the powers are wallowing in war.

The Middle East gives a concentrated picture of the irrational nature of war today, in which every imperialism gets bogged down more and more trying to defend its own interests and, so doing, enlarges the zone of conflicts, which become bloodier and bloodier and involve more and more states. The extension of the regions of the world in which there are bloody conflicts is a demonstration of capitalism's inevitably war-like nature. War and militarism have become well and truly the permanent way of life of decadent capitalism in advanced decomposition. This is one of the essential characteristics of the tragic impasse of a system that has nothing to offer humanity except misery and death.

The American bourgeoisie caught in a dead-end

The guardian of “world order” has now itself  become a powerful and active factor in the acceleration of chaos.

How is it possible that the world's foremost army, with the most up to date technology, the most powerful reconnaissance service, sophisticated armaments able to locate and reach precise targets thousands of kilometres away, has got entangled in such a mess? How is it possible that the United States, the most powerful country in the world, is led by a semi-moron surrounded by a pack of activists which hardly conforms to the traditional image of a responsible “great democracy” of the bourgeoisie? It is true that Bush Junior, described by the writer Norman Mailer as the “worst president in the history of the United States: ignorant, arrogant and completely stupid” is surrounded by a team of particularly “enlightened” “thinkers” who dictate his policy. These range from the vice-president Dick Cheney to the secretary of State for Defence Donald Rumsfeld and include his guru-manager Karl Rove and the “theoretician” Paul Wolfowitz. From the beginning of the 1990s Wolfowitz has been the most consistent spokesman for a “doctrine” which states clearly that “the essential political and military mission of America in the period following the Cold War will be to ensure that no rival super-power can emerge in Western Europe, Asia or in the territory of the ex-Soviet Union”. This “doctrine” was made public in March 1992, just after the collapse of the USSR and the re-unification of Germany and when the American bourgeoisie still had illusions in the success of its strategy. With this aim in mind, these same people stated a few years ago that in order to mobilise the nation and impose American democratic values upon the whole world and prevent imperialist rivalries, “a new Pearl Harbour was necessary”. We should remember that the Japanese attack on the American naval base in December 1941, which killed or injured 4,500 on the American side, enabled the United States to enter the war on the allied side because it tipped a public opinion which till then had hesitated to enter the war. The highest political authorities in America were aware of the attack plan and did not intervene. Since Cheney and company came to power, thanks to the victory of Bush Junior in 2000, they have been putting their planned policy into operation. The 11th September attacks served as the “new Pearl Harbour” and it was in the name of their new crusade against terrorism that they justified the invasion of Afghanistan and then of Iraq. At the same time, new and particularly expensive military programmes were set up and an unprecedented strengthening of police control over the population was brought in. The fact that the United States uses such leaders to play out the fate of the planet like so many sorcerers’ apprentices obeys the same logic of decadent capitalism in crisis as that which brought Hitler to power in Germany in a different period. It is not this or that individual at the head of the state that makes capitalism develop in a certain direction. On the contrary, it is this system's decay that brings this or that individual to power, to represent this development and putt it into action. This is a very clear expression of the historic impasse in which capitalism is foundering.

The result of this policy is catastrophic: 3,000 soldiers dead since the beginning of the war in Iraq three years ago (over 2,800 of these are American troops), 655,000 Iraqis killed between March 2003 and July 2006. In the meantime the murderous attacks and the confrontations between Shi'ite and Sunni factions have intensified. The 160,000 occupation troops that are on Iraqi soil under the high command of the United States, are incapable of “fulfilling their mission to maintain order” in a country that is on the brink of civil war. In the north the Shi'ite militia are trying to impose their control and increase their demonstrations of force. In the south the Sunni activists, who proudly proclaim their links with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, have just announced the formation of an “Islamic Republic”. In the centre, around Baghdad, the population is exposed to bands of looters and booby-trapped cars and if the American troops make any attempt to walk abroad they run the risk of running into an ambush.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have swallowed up colossal sums which increasingly swell both the budget deficit and the United States' enormous debt. The situation in Afghanistan is no less disastrous. The interminable hunt for Al Qaeda and the presence there of an occupation army has given credibility to the Taliban, who were ousted from power in 2002 but, being re-armed by Iran and more discretely by China, are now increasing their ambushes and attacks. The “terrorist devils”, as Bin Laden and the Taliban regime are now called, were both in former times the “creatures” the United States used to oppose the USSR in the period of the imperialist blocs and after the invasion of Afghanistan by Russian troops. Bin Laden is a former spy recruited by the CIA in 1979, who served in Istanbul as a financial mediator to traffic arms from Saudi Arabia and the United States to Afghan underground forces. From the beginning of the Russian intervention, he became quite “naturally” the mediator allowing the United States to finance the Afghan resistance. The Taliban were originally armed and financed by the United States and came to power with the full blessing of Uncle Sam.

It is also clear that the great crusade against terrorism has by no means managed to eradicate it but has, on the contrary, led to an increase in terrorist actions and kamikaze attacks in which the only aim is to create as many victims as possible. Today the White House remains impotent while the Iranian state cocks a snoot at it in the most humiliating way. This is encouraging fourth or fifth rate powers such as North Korea, which went ahead with a nuclear test on 8th October, becoming the 8th country possessing nuclear arms. This challenge endangers the balance of power in the whole of South East Asia and will in its turn encourage other aspiring powers to acquire nuclear weapons. It will also serve as a justification for the rapid re-militarization and re-armament of Japan and its orientation towards the production of nuclear weapons in order to confront its immediate neighbour. This “domino effect” of the rush towards militarism and of “every man for himself” is by no means an insignificant danger.

Nor should we neglect the appalling chaos that ravages the Gaza strip. Following the electoral victory of Hamas at the end of January, direct international aid was suspended and the Israeli government organised a blockade on the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority from taxes and customs duty. 165,000 PA employees have not been paid for 7 months. However their anger as well as that of the population, 70% of whom live below the poverty line and with an unemployment rate of 44%, is easily dispersed in the street confrontations which have taken place regularly between Hamas and Fatah militants since 1st October. One attempt after another to form a government of national unity has aborted. Even while it was withdrawing from South Lebanon, Tsahal besieged the zones bordering on Egypt on the edge of the Gaza Strip and again started missile bombardments of the town of Rafallah. The pretext was that it was hunting down Hamas activists. For those who manage to keep a job there are interminable controls. The population lives in a constant climate of terror and insecurity. Since 25th June, 300 deaths have been counted in this zone.

It is obvious that American policy is a fiasco. This is why the Bush administration is seriously challenged even by its own Republican camp. The ceremonies commemorating the 5th anniversary of 11th September occasioned a spate of heated criticisms of Bush reported in the American media. Five years ago the ICC was accused of having a Machiavellian vision of history when it put forward the hypothesis that the White House knew about the planned attacks and allowed them to take place in order to justify the military adventures that they were planning[2]. Today an unbelievable number of books, documentaries and articles on the Internet not only cast doubt on the official version of 11th September but many of them also put forward much cruder theories and denounce it as a plot and a manoeuvre of the Bush team. According to the most recent opinion polls, within the population itself more than one third of Americans and almost a half of the New York population think that the attacks were manipulated and that 11th September was an “inside job”.

In addition, 60% of the American population think that the war in Iraq was a “bad thing”; a majority of them do not believe that Saddam Hussein had nuclear arms or links with Al Qaeda and think that such claims were an excuse to justify an intervention in Iraq. Half a dozen recent books (including one by the star journalist Bob Woodward who uncovered the Watergate scandal at the time of the Nixon administration) make relentless inquiries that denounce the “lie” of the state and call for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This does not at all mean that the militarist policy of the United States has been scuttled. However the government is obliged to take into account and try to deal with its contradictions in order to adapt. Bush’s so-called “gaffe”, when he admitted that there was a similarity with the Vietnam war, goes together with the “leaks”… orchestrated by interviews given by James Baker himself. The old head of general staff in the Reagan period, who was also secretary of state at the time of Bush senior, proposed to open up a dialogue with Syria and Iran and for a partial withdrawal of troops from Iraq. This very limited attempt at a riposte shows to what extent the American bourgeoisie has been weakened. To simply withdraw from Iraq would constitute the most burning affront in the whole of its history and this is something that it cannot possibly allow. The comparison with Vietnam is really a deceptive under-estimation. At the time, the withdrawal of its troops from Vietnam made it possible for the United States to re-orient its strategy and pull China into its own camp against the USSR. Today the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would be nothing other than a capitulation without compensation and would completely discredit the American superpower. It would also bring about the collapse of Iraq which would, in turn, considerably worsen the chaos throughout the region. These contradictions are a telling demonstration of the crisis and weakening of American leadership and the development of “everyone for himself”, which testifies to the growing chaos in international relations. Moreover, a change in the Congress majority at the next mid-term elections and even the eventual election of a democratic president in two years time will not make possible any “choice” other than a flight into new military adventures. The incompetence of the present American administration is almost unprecedented. But whatever team takes over, it cannot change one fundamental fact. Confronted with a capitalist system which is bogged down in its mortal crisis, the ruling class is unable to give any response other than the flight towards military barbarism. And the world's leading bourgeoisie cannot but defend its rank in this domain.

The class struggle is the only alternative to capitalist barbarism

In the United States, the weight of chauvinism that was wide-spread just after 11th September has largely disappeared following the double fiasco of the anti-terrorist struggle and the quagmire of the war in Iraq. Recruitment campaigns for the army have difficulty finding candidates willing to risk their skins in Iraq while the troops there are prey to demoralisation. Despite the risks, thousands of deserters have sought refuge in Canada.

This situation does not show the impasse of the bourgeoisie alone; it also announces another alternative. The increasingly unbearable weight of war and barbarism upon society is an indispensable element for the development of consciousness by the proletariat of the unstoppable bankruptcy of the capitalist system. The only way that the working class can oppose imperialist war, the only way it can offer solidarity to its class brothers exposed to the most terrible massacres is to mobilise on its own class terrain against its exploiters. It must fight and develop its struggles on the social terrain against its own national bourgeoisie. This is something that the working class is beginning to do, for example the solidarity strike of employees at Heathrow airport in August 2005 with the Pakistani workers sacked by the restaurant group, Gate Gourmet. This took place in the midst of the anti-terrorist campaign following the bomb attacks in London. Another example is the mobilisation of future proletarians against the CPE in France or the metal workers of Vigo in Spain. We can also cite the 18,000 Boeing mechanics in America, September 2005 who fought against the reduction of pension payments while refusing the states discrimination between young and old workers. Then there is the strike of the New York tube and public transport workers just before Christmas 2005 against an attack on pensions that was aimed at those who would be employed in the future. In this way they affirmed the awareness that to fight for the future of their children is part of their struggle. These struggles are still very weak and the path that will lead to a decisive confrontation between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie is still long and difficult but they attest to a recovery of class combats at an international level. They constitute the only possible glimmer of hope for a different future, of an alternative for humanity to capitalist barbarism.

W (21/10/06)

[1] This cynicism and hypocrisy is amply demonstrated by an episode that took place during the last days of the war. A convoy composed of part of the population of a Lebanese village including a number of women and children, who were trying to flee from the combat zone, broke down and came under fire from the Tsahal. The members of the convey sought refuge in a nearby UN camp. They were told that it was impossible to give them shelter, that there was no mandate for that. The majority (58 of them) were gunned down by the Israeli army and the UNIFIL forces looked on passively. This is according to evidence given to television news by a mother who managed to escape.

[2] Read our article “Pearl Harbour 1941, the ‘Twin Towers’ 2001, the Machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie” in International Review n°108.


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