A huge step in capitalist decomposition

Printer-friendly version

The terrible bloodbath on the 11 September was not a sudden bolt out of the blue by “Islamic fanatics”. On the contrary, it was a new, and qualitatively more serious, link in a long chain of wars, acts of destruction, developing militarism and arms build up.

The lie of a ‘New World Order’ is once again exposed

10 years ago the present American president’s father promised a “New World Order” because the collapse of what his predecessor � Ronald Reagan - had called the “evil empire” had brought about the victory of “democracy” and “Liberal” capitalism. This was supposed to lead to a society where military conflicts would progressively disappear and all nations would live under Right, Law and Justice, in capital letters. With the appearance of the first serious convulsions in the old Soviet bloc a completely different perspective was opened up “Far from encouraging peace, the disintegration of the blocs which emerged from Yalta, and the decomposition of the capitalist system which underlines it, implies still more tension and conflicts. The appetites of the minor imperialisms, which up to now have been determined by the world’s division into two major camps, will only increase, now that these camps no longer dominated by their leaders before” (‘Presentation to the Theses on the Economic and Political crisis in the USSR and the Eastern Countries’, International Review 60). We insisted that we were not going towards a “New World Order” but towards “A world of bloody chaos, where the American Policeman will try to maintain a minimum of order by the increasingly massive and brutal use of military force” (‘Militarism and Decomposition’ International Review 64).

The Gulf War in 1991 was the first episode in this; then came Yugoslavia, the Middle East, Rwanda, Somalia, Sudan, Sierra Leon, Congo, Algeria, Angola, Afghanistan, Timor, Chechnya, Colombia, Burma, Kashmir� This succession of violent convulsions form part of the dynamic that led to the terrible assault on the Twin Towers. This dynamic is based on a historically unprecedented explosion of imperialist appetites amongst both great and small states - appetites that had been more or less contained by the discipline of the blocs. But over the past ten years, in the absence of this discipline, and in the general context of an ever-deepening economic crisis, we have been plunged into a chaotic spiral of confrontations, which, if the proletariat does not react, will end up leading to the destruction of humanity.

What lies behind this dynamic? Will it be possible to reach a point of equilibrium that will allow these tensions to be contained with a framework of negotiations?  The different factions of the ruling class clearly put forwards this idea. The official message of the Western governments is that the “democratic” great powers are seeking to set up just laws that will allow a “New World Order”. The only problem is that this praiseworthy effort is being torpedoed by a whole series of dark forces: dictators such as Saddam Hussein or Milosevic, international terrorism which now possesses terrible and secret weapons, the “rogue” states (North Korea, Afghanistan, Libya etc). In order for this much-promised “New World” to be achieved it will be necessary to mobilise behind the military crusade against these “new threats” and  “new forms of war”.

The explanations given by the left of capital, although they are more insidious, are no less fragile. They certainly see the need to “struggle against terrorism” and the “new forms of war” and are therefore very enthusiastic about the military mobilisation. But at the same time they add a twist of criticism about the “excesses” of “neo-liberalism” and “globalisation”, which are obstacles to a more just world order.

Lastly, the message of the factions that support the “rogue” states and “international terrorism” is no less repugnant than that of their “civilised” opponents. They justify acts such as the attack on the Twin Towers by saying that they are “an action by the oppressed peoples against imperialism” and that they are retaliation against the populations of the opulent metropoles for the suffering of the Palestinian and Arab masses.

All of these political currents are expressions of a capitalist system that is leading humanity towards barbarism. Their crude claims not only don’t explain anything, but have the aim of tying the proletariat and the great majority of the population to the yoke of capitalism and imperialism, of stimulating the most base instincts of hate, revenge and massacre.

Military barbarism in the phase of capitalist decomposition

Only the historical method of marxism, the most advanced expression of the class consciousness of the proletariat, can provide a coherent explanation of the murderous disorder that reigns in the world, and put forward the only possible solution: the destruction of capitalism in all countries.

In 1989, faced with the collapse of Stalinism and the imperialist bloc organised around Russia, we demonstrated that these events signalled capitalism’s entry into a new and terminal phase of its decadence: the stage of decomposition. In the document ‘Decomposition, the final phase of capitalist decadence’, published in International Review 62 we showed that its roots lay in a new characteristic of the period opened up by 1968: on the one hand, the proletariat had revived its class struggle but had not been able to go beyond the merely defensive level. Nevertheless, this made it difficult for the bourgeoisie to impose its response to the endless crisis of its system: generalised imperialist war. All of which sucked world society into a morass: “As crisis-ridden capitalism’s contradictions can only get deeper, the bourgeoisie’s inability to offer the slightest perspective for society as a whole, and the proletariat’s inability, for the moment, openly to set forwards its own historic perspective, can only lead to a situation of generalised decomposition. Capitalism is rotting on its feet”.

This morass has profoundly marked the evolution of capitalism at all levels of its existence “to such an extent that the contradictions and expressions of decadent capitalism that mark its successive phases do not disappear with time, but continue and deepen; the phase of decomposition appears as the result of an accumulation of all the characteristics of a moribund system, completing the 75-year death agony of a historically condemned mode of production. Concretely, not only do the imperialist nature of all states, the threat of world war, the absorption of civil society by the state Moloch, and the permanent crisis of the capitalist economy all continue during the phase of decomposition, they reach a synthesis and an ultimate conclusion within it” (ibid).

At the level of the evolution of imperialist tensions, the world scene has been dominated by a series of particularly grave and destructive elements:

* The United States, whilst being the only military superpower, has been faced with its authority being increasingly challenged, not only by nations with their own aspirations (Germany, France, Great Britain�) but also by an increasing number of other states.

* Each state follows its own policy and virulently affirms its refusal to submit to the discipline of the more powerful states. This is the explosion of what we call “every man for himself”.

* Alliances between states have become circumstantial and lost all solidity and continuity. They are ephemeral and temporary, forming and falling apart at a dizzying speed.

* Conflicts fester without any remedy, beyond any possibility of stabilisation. The conflicts inherited from the Yalta epoch have not been resolved but rather have become indefinitely prolonged.

* Imperialist strategy � as a coherent and long-term political and military orientation � has become increasingly less possible. It has been replaced by immediatist, contradictory tactics, without stable alliances, that have worsened the chaos and destruction even more.

* A consequence of the former is that the policy of all the great powers � and even more so of the smaller ones - consists more of destabilising the allies of its rivals than constructing its own network of loyal states.

* The great powers are implicated in the use of terrorism as a means of war; the world situation is characterised by “the development of terrorism or the seizure of hostages, as methods of warfare between states, to the detriment of the ‘laws’ that capitalism established in the past to ‘regulate’ the conflicts between different ruling class factions” (ibid).

All this has aggravated the chaotic nature of imperialist conflicts, because as we demonstrate in the Resolution on the International Situation from our 14th Congress, which took place in May 2001 “..the fragmentation of the old bloc structures and disciplines unleashed national rivalries on an unprecedented scale, resulting in an increasingly chaotic struggle of each against all from the world’s greatest powers to the meanest local warlord�The wars characteristic of the present phase of capitalist decomposition are no less imperialist wars than the wars of previous phases of decadence, but they have become more widespread, more uncontrollable, and more difficult to bring to even a temporary close” (International Review 106) .

The United States is the biggest loser in this situation. Its national interests are identified with the maintaining of a world order built for its own advantage. However all of the pillars upholding  such an order have been overturned by the evolution of decomposing capitalism:

* The threat of the Russian bear, which pushed the affluent bourgeoisies of Europe and Japan to voluntarily submit to American tutelage, no longer exists. This has encouraged them to pursue their own ambitions, and this can only lead to a widespread clash with American interests.

* The development of the economic crisis has whetted the imperialist appetites of all states, resulting in campaigns of conquest, in attempts to destabilise their rivals’ underlings, in risky adventures that can only end up by further spreading chaos.

* Social decomposition spreads through all countries, but above all the weakest ones. This generates all kinds of centrifugal tendencies and powerful movements towards dislocation and schism. All types of gangs and warlords terrorise the population whilst at the same time fighting against the central state. These fires have not only been fanned by neighbouring states but also by the world and regional powers through their thinly veiled support. Some examples of this situation are the Philippines, Indonesia, India, Russia, Colombia, Mexico, Sierra Leone, Liberia, etc.

Confronted with this blood-soaked mess, the world’s sheriff, the United States, has been obliged to carry out enormous displays of force, as we saw in the Gulf and Kosovo. These exhibitions of its overwhelming military power have forced its rivals to bend the knee and line themselves behind the great godfather. Nevertheless, when the effect of intimidation wears off, they all return to their old ways, forcing the US to react on an even bigger scale. It is certainly significant that just prior to September 11, tensions between Europe and America (over Kyoto, ‘Son of Star Wars’, the Euro-Army, etc) had never been so sharp.

The USA is compelled to use military force to reaffirm its world domination

It is difficult to work out who exactly was behind the bloody attack of 11th September. However, what is certain is that even while the bodies were still warm, the American state immediately began to loudly bang the drums of war. Taking full advantage of the terrible emotional impact of the massacre on the American population, it unleashed violent patriotic hysteria in order to carry out an unprecedented war mobilisation.

Simultaneously, the countries of NATO have had to stand to attention; not only that, they have also had to stomach the application of Article 5 of the Treaty that obliges them to show “solidarity” with any of the members countries that have been attacked. The United States has told them in no uncertain terms, through the words of a high-ranking diplomat, that “those who are not united with the coalition will be considered and treated as an enemy”.

Practically all the world’s regimes have unreservedly supported the USA’s plans. Only the Taliban, officially designated as being guilty of hosting the shady Bin Laden, have refused and called for a “Holy War”.

However, there are noticeable differences between the new military deployment being prepared by the US and the one carried out in 1991. Then it was fundamentally an exhibition of force, whereas today, as Bush has declared “it is not a question of vengeance, nor of a symbolic reaction, but of winning a war against barbarous behaviour”.  Therefore in his televised harangue he said that “we ask you for patience because the conflict will not be short. We ask you for tenacity because the conflict will not be easy. We ask you for all our strength because the road to victory will be long”.

What is being laid out for the coming weeks is a widespread military campaign which will encompass several theatres of operations. The choice of Afghanistan as the main target is not an accident or simply the result of Bin Laden’s presence. This country has a fundamental strategic importance. It is situated at the crossroads between Russia, China, India and at the same time its immense mountains can serve as an observatory and a platform for putting pressure on the Middle East � Palestine and Israel, the Arab Emirates, Arabia etc - which is a crucial centre for the control of Europe. The United States has not only forced all of the states and especially its former allies to follow its plans; it is also seeking out more stable and durable positions which will allow it to have a much greater control over the world situation.

The period ahead will see a dramatic aggravation of imperialist tensions:

* Firstly because an act of war has struck massively and directly at the workers and population of the world’s main city, New York. A tendency that has prevailed since 1945 has come to an end: the workers of the main industrial centres are no longer going to be free from the scourge of war; from now on they are going to be exposed to reprisals comparable to the attack on the Twin Towers that could result in thousands of victims.

* Secondly, because the response that the USA is preparing will take the form of a much more prolonged military operation. This will involve a much greater deployment of military force than during the Gulf war.

* Thirdly, because this is inevitably going to lead to costly and difficult operations involving the occupation of territory, with the consequent use of infantry and their involvement in bloody struggles.

The qualitative leap in the evolution of imperialist tensions is more than obvious. We are not on the eve of the third world war as alarmist announcements have claimed. Nevertheless, this is not any consolation because these events dramatically confirm the tendency that war has taken on in the period of decomposition; and this in the long run can be just as dangerous as a Third World War. As we say in the International Situation Resolution from our last Congress “The working class today thus faces the possibility that it could be engulfed in an irrational chain reaction of local and regional wars�This apocalypse is not so far from what we are experiencing today, the face of barbarism is taking material shape before our eyes�Humanity today does not merely face the prospect of barbarism in the future: the descent has already begun and it bears with it the danger of gradually eating away at the every premises of any future social regeneration

In the second part of this article we will examine the effects of these recent events on the class consciousness of the proletariat.


Heritage of the Communist Left: 

General and theoretical questions: 

Recent and ongoing: