Rwanda, the Congo, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kashmir, Kosovo and now East Timor. As the world watches, yet another carefully pre-planned mass slaughter is enacted, even before the blood is dry at the site of the last one. Thousands -perhaps tens of thousands- have been butchered. This time, however, it is not happening 'far away', but right on Australia's doorstep, and in a place where Australian capitalism has long, intimate connections.
Australia will lead the multinational military force to intervene in East Timor. This will be a long and bloody affair. "On long and bloody affair. "Once the commitment has been made, it will be years before all the Australians can come home", a defence official has warned (The Age, 9 Sept. 1999). But it will all be worth it, we are assured: this crusade would "restore peace and security in East Timor" (The Australian, 13 Sept.).
The Labor Party, the trade unions and the leftist groups have been even more vociferous in their support for such intervention. And the media relentlessly reminds us that more East Timorese are being murdered daily. Democratic Australia is opposing the butchers of Jakarta, and for once was unafraid to stand up to even the united states. So what's wrong?
Canberra's bloody Jakarta connection
There can be no doubt that thousands of East Timorese civilians have been slaughtered by Jakarta's armed gangs. But Canberra is not the innocent bystander it claims to be. As with all capitalist war drives, this one is also based on convenient memory lapses, not to mention outright lies. The fact is that every time capitalist Australia has any connection with East Timorese and Indonesians, it is workers and poor farmers who die on all sides.
During World Wa="-1" face="Arial">During World War II, Australian imperialism fought part of its war with Japan using East Timorese as canon fodder.
In 1965, the Indonesian Government of the day was overthrown in a brutal military coup. Java's rivers ran red with the blood of hundreds of thousands - including many workers - for months. Australia warmly supported the new military dictatorship of Suharto and Co.
Australia and the Western Alliance turned a determined blind eye to the Indonesian military's repression of workers and poor farmers over the next 30 years.
In the final analysis, the West had no serious problems with the way the Suharto regime conducted itself. Strikes were brutally crushed, and Indonesian imperialism forcibly extended its scope to West Papua and East Timor. Undaunted, the West -including Australia- continued to provide military aid to Jakarta. It has done the same to the current gang of Habibie, Alatas and Wiranto. When you're on a winner, stick to it!
The fraud of 'democracy'
The break up of the former USSR and the Eastern bloc in the late 1980s meant the end of the Cold War, but it has hardly ushered in the golden era of international peace and brotherhood that we were promised by capitalism. Indeed, since that time, military tensions, genocidal massacres and wars have only multiplied.
Without the threat of Russia, the United States is no longer able to prevent its former allies from competing directly with it and each other for a share of the imperialist pie. Powers both large (France, Germany, etc.) and small (Iraq, Serbia etc.) have clashed with America either directly (the smaller powers) or by proxy, through the training and deployment of local nationalist gangs.
Australian capitalism's admittedly minor, but nonetheless bloody, record on the world stage -and especially with respect to Indonesia and East Timor- demonstrates that it can only bring more bloodshed with its plans to lead an international force of 'peacekeepers'.
Yet not only the Liberal/National Party Coalition, but also the Labor Party and the Democrats, the ACTU [Australian Confederation of Trade Unions] and the leftist groups say the opposite. Can the capitalist leopard really change its spots?
East Timor's misery - Canberra's opportunity!
The tThe truth is that Australian capital sees the misery of the East Timorese as a burning opportunity for it to at long last strike out for its share of the post-Cold War booty, by leading its own military adventure. The Australian Government has caused a major embarrassment to an over-stretched US on this issue, not to mention severely disturbed Washington's cosy relationship with Jakarta.
The stakes are big for Australia. Indonesia is the world's forth most populous country. Australian capital aims to bring it forcibly under its wing - over the bodies of not only East Timorese civilians, but also the soldiers on all sides who never asked to be there, workers and peasants in uniform. And that is without reckoning on the chilling possibility of an escalating conflict which spreads to other Indonesian territories. Like all wars this century, the major casualties will be civilians.
Once again capitalism is showing us its real face: an endless barbarism, good only for death and destruction. Wars are not caused by 'bad' or 'weak' world leaders. They are capitalism's only answer to its insurmountable economic crisis.
It is the crisis that is sharpening the rivalries between nations, pushing them to seeminglynations, pushing them to seemingly endless military confrontations. The more the crisis deepens -as we are seeing right now- the more capitalism will wallow in blood, and the closer war will come to the developed countries.
Kosovo repeats itself
The countries who recently made war against Yugoslavia hypocritically claim that this was urgently necessary to prevent the ethnic cleansing of Kosovars. This lie relied upon 'forgetting' that it was the NATO invasion itself which provided Belgrade with the best excuse - and practical opportunity - to do this.
Similarly, in East Timor, it is much the same powers who helped create the conditions for the present massacre. Australia and the United Nations 'assured' the East Timorese that they could deliver 'peace' and independence' to them, if only the East Timorese would vote for it. It was always obvious that Jakarta would never accept losing this territory
In June this year, communications intercepted by the Australian Signals Directorate proved that the Indonesian military was meticulously planning the current ethnic cleansing. Undaunted, the Australian Government publicly denied the veracity of these reports. Yet, as PM Howard has since admiYet, as PM Howard has since admitted, Australian troops have been preparing since at least early 1999 to play an active interventionist role in East Timor, when Jakarta's violent post-referendum campaign inevitably erupted there.
No other conclusion makes sense: Canberra was banking on Jakarta's present murderous offensive in East Timor, just like Washington was on Belgrade's ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.
What can be done?
The purpose of the media campaign is to make the workers feel helpless in the face of the ferocity of the massacres, and to create active support for an armed Australian intervention. It also wants to make us feel grateful that we live in such an enclave of capitalist democracy, surrounded by countless bloodthirsty Third World despots.
The ACTU, the Labor Party and others have taken up the government's campaign for military intervention in East Timor. They have picked up the media's theme of 'helplessness', with their own hopeless slogan of 'do something'. Meanwhile, the so-called 'revolutionary left' intones its usual theme of 'no confidence' in such an intervention - while fundamentally supporting it. The leftists also work to divert away from a working class solution, by pushing the deadly illusion of an 'independent East Timor' - as if any country can be independent of the machinations of the great powers today.
It is a convenient distribution of labour: the mainstream political forces seek to recruit the ordinary workers, while the leftists sing the same tune in a more militant octave, to attempt to draw in those militant elements who might otherwise have misgivings. It is a blood-soaked, capitalist campaign on all sides.
Fixing a problem requires going to its roots. The cause of war is capitalism. Only independent working class action can stop massacres and genocide in country after country. All workers must firmly resist being dragged on board the capitalist's war machine. Workers should not forget that, while our class has certainly been battered by the economic crisis, it has successfully prevented the capitalists from following the logic of their inhuman system, and unleashing World War III.
Workers everywhere need to defend their own independent interests. That is the only way to weaken the capitalist war machine. By refusing to accept the sacrifices that the ruling class wants to impose in order to finance its wars, by refusing to bear the brunt of the system's economic crisis, the workers can gain the collective strength to refuse the ultimate sacrifice: that of their lives in imperialist war - and in the process regain confidence in their own ability to play a decisive role in the future of humanity. Only when the workers in every country can put an end to capitalism will capitalist barbarism cease.
Communist Left Discussion Circle, 13.9.99.
To contact the circle write to GPO Box 1729P, Melbourne, Victoria 3001, Australia