The threat of war between nuclear powers casts a terrifying shadow across the whole world. It is not an empty threat, an episode of sabre-rattling where India and Pakistan will just go to the brink before ‘seeing sense’ and coming to an agreement. “The British and American Governments are seriously contemplating a doomsday scenario in which there is an unstoppable momentum toward a nuclear war in India and Pakistan that would kill millions of people and make millions more homeless across the sub-continent” (The Times, 1/6/02). In an inferior position - Pakistan has 700,000 troops to India’s 1.2 million, 25 nuclear missiles with a lesser range than India’s 60 - “Pakistan has already made it clear that, in the face of a superior enemy, it would be prepared to initiate a nuclear confrontation” (Guardian 23/5/2). British “diplomatic and defence sources” have suggested that neither President Musharraf of Pakistan nor Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee “appeared to be taking into account the sheer scale of the disaster that would follow if nuclear weapons were used, and that they seemed incapable of visualising the disaster that would overwhelm their countries as a result” (The Times, 1/6/2). While “military sources” felt that “neither leader was thinking logically or with any common sense” (ibid), in reality it is a gruesome illustration of the insane logic of the imperialist appetites of the ruling class. Here we have the ruling classes of two countries, where poverty, disease and death stalk the majority of the population daily, setting in motion theie blame for all this with ‘religious fundamentalism’. The Indian ruling class blames Pakistan-backed Islamic fundamentalists for terrorist attacks in Kashmir and on the Indian parliament. On the other side, the Pakistan ruling class blames the fervent nationalism of the Hindu fundamentalism of the ruling BJP party in India, in particular with its brutal counter-insurgency against ‘freedom fighters’ in Kashmir. As for the ‘democratic’ and ‘civilised’ bourgeoisie in the West, they weep crocodile tears about the ‘intransigence’ of the leaders of both countries and call on them to be ‘reasonable’ and seek peace under the guidance of the leaders of the very countries, such as Britain and the US, that train and provide the weaponry for their armed forces.
The ruling classes in India and Pakistan have certainly used fundamentalism in stirring up a war psychosis in each country. The BJP in India uses terrorist attacks in Kashmir and the rest of India as justification for its military threats against Pakistan. Meanwhile the BJP has been implicated in the inter-communal massacres in the state of Gujarat where hundreds of Hindu fundamentalists were incinerated in a train by Islamic militants and in reply thousands of Muslims were slaughtered. The Indian state has deliberately whipped up this hatred which is then directed against Pakistan. Meanwhile the Pakistani bourgeoisie has not only been trying to destabilise India through its backing for the Kashmiri struggle against Indian rule, they also claim that India is backing terrorist groups in Pakistan. Constantly fuelling the most virulent nationalism has enabled both sets of exploiters to drag large parts of their populations into support for their imperialist ambitions.
The use of such nationalisms in conjunction with religious prejudice and racial stereotyping is not new or confined to the peripheries of capitalism. The bourgeoisies of the main capitalist countries have developed this into a fine art. In the First World War both sides portrayed the other as ‘evil ‘ and a ‘threat to civilisation’. In the 1930s both the Nazis and Stalinists used anti-semitism and nationalism to mobilise their populations. The ‘civilised’ Allies did everything to whip up anti-German and anti-Japanese hysteria, which culminated in the cynical use of the Holocaust to justify the bombardment and massacre of an ‘inhuman’ enemy. During the Cold War similar hatreds were cultivated by both blocs to portray the enemy as power-hungry maniacs. And since 1989 the ‘humanitarian’ leaders of the great powers have manipulated and stirred up the growth of the ethnic cleansing, religious and racial hatred that has penetrated so many areas of the planet in a cycle of wars and massacres. At the moment, in ‘civilised’ democratic countries across Europe, we are seeing politicians of the Left and Right fomenting the most crude racism against refugees and other immigrants, in order to justify strengthening state repression, sow divisions in the population and portray the state as the last rampart against invading ‘hordes’.
The creation of the most virulent nationalism and crude racism is an essential part of imperialist mobilisations - not just with today’s developing nightmare in South Asia, but in all the imperialist massacres since before the beginning of the 20th century. In order for any imperialism to wage war it has to portray its rival in practically sub-human terms. “War is methodical, organised, gigantic murder. But in normal human beings this systematic murder is possible only when a state of intoxication has previously been created. This has always been the tried and proven method of those who make war. Bestiality of action must find a commensurate bestiality of thought and senses; the latter must prepare and accompany the former” (Rosa Luxemburg, The Junius Pamphlet). It should be added, on the question of ‘bestiality’, that most animals only kill for food, some in defence of territory or their young. However “Imperialism, with all its brutal policy of force, with the incessant chain of social catastrophe that it itself provokes, is, to be sure, a historic necessity for the ruling classes of the present world” (ibid). Massive devastation comes from the actual needs of capitalist states trying to defend their interests through imperialist war.
Today relations between capitalist states take the form of an imperialist free-for-all, a situation unleashed by the disintegration of the Russian and US blocs. In the period of the Cold War the bitter rivalries between nation states were kept in check through the discipline required by each bloc. Today all these ambitions have free play. The 50 year old conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir is not constrained by the discipline of the US bloc but is threatening to escalate to an unprecedented level where the use of nuclear weapons cannot be discounted. This comes after several years of a more or less open war in Kashmir where tens of thousands have already died with the conflict at a level that the rest of the world’s states found ‘acceptable’.
The intensity of the antagonism between these two nuclear powers can be seen by the extent to which the US, the world’s only superpower, appears to be finding it difficult to impose its will on the situation. The US doesn’t want a full blown conflict. It wants to control south Asia, not see it destroyed. But each sides justifies its military build-up with the same justification used by the US for its imperialist onslaught across the globe: ‘the war against terrorism’. The situation expresses the real instability of the world situation. Only a few months after the US made a massive display of force in Afghanistan to compel other nation-states to line up behind it, two of its allies in this war are at each others throats. Disaster is threatened in a region where the US thought it could impose its order through military means.
This is the latest and potentially most devastating in a series of such situations. Since the end of the Cold War, the US has launched massive military operations to show the world that it will not accept any challenge to its leadership. After the 1991 Gulf War, instead of the New World Order came the horror of the war in the Balkans. In 1999 after the US’s show of force against Serbia the European imperialist powers became increasingly open in their opposition to US policies such as ‘Son of Star Wars’. It was in response to this challenge that the US laid waste to Afghanistan, using the convenient justification of 11th September. Now it is faced with two of its ‘allies’ in the region preparing for a conflict that would have horrendous consequences.
Every display of US power, each expression of open belligerence to other states, every time another agreement or weapons treaty is discarded, every increase to the already enormous US military budget - all these measures only add more fuel to the fire of imperialist tensions. All its rivals, whether they are Germany, France or Britain, or regional powers such as Russia, China, India or Pakistan, are being pushed to strike out in an effort to defend their own interests. For India and Pakistan in particular, seeing the US impose itself in the region has left them no choice but to undermine the other in the desperate defence of their own interests.
The ‘great powers’ are certainly very concerned about the possibility of nuclear war breaking out. The whole world situation would be thrown into disarray with every nation-state desperate to defend its position in a situation where the world’s major power was unable to stop two 3rd rate imperialist powers from trying to annihilate each other. However, we should not forget that it is countries such as the US, Britain and France that have the greatest stocks of ‘weapons of mass destruction’. The US, for example, has recently made it quite clear that it now has a ‘first strike’ policy with its nuclear weaponry, ready to act against any other state, regardless of their military status, from impoverished Afghanistan to, ultimately, its great power rivals. US nuclear weapons’ policy follows the logic of imperialism: crush your enemy. And with the US declaring its ‘first strike’ policy, neither India or Pakistan will have any hesitation in using their ultimate weapons.
A massive threat to the working class and the rest of humanity
The campaigns to mobilise the population for war have the aim of destroying any class solidarity between the workers of each country. Workers are exploited and threatened by the same capitalist class, but called upon to massacre each other in the name of the national interest. It is because of the threat from the working class that capitalism feels the need to use all its lies to boost nationalism and throw workers off the path of struggle.
At a local level, in south Asia, the working class is not showing the militancy that could stop a war. Internationally the working class is a spectator as capitalism tears itself apart. If nuclear weapons are used it will not just cause unimaginable millions of deaths, and environmental destruction, it will be the most massive blow against the working class, a setback in the struggle for communism. It would represent a qualitative development in the decomposition of capitalism and would pose the question of whether the working class is going to be able to pose its own alternative. If the ruling class can fight even one war with nuclear weapons it could unleash a deadly and apocalyptic cycle that would ultimately make communism a total impossibility.
And yet the fundamental point remains: the only force that can stop this happening is the international working class, above all that in the main capitalist countries. Through the development of its struggles to defend its own interests it could show the workers on the sub-continent that there is a class alternative to nationalism, religious and ethnic hatred. This places a huge responsibility on the working class of the metropolitan heartlands. It has to see that while it must defend its interests as a class, it also has the future of humanity in its hands. It has to begin the process of political clarification on the nature of the system it faces and the stark alternative it is faced with: struggle as a class or be destroyed as individuals.
Faced with the insanity of capitalism in full decay, workers in the region and around the world must take up the slogan: WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE, your enemy is your national bourgeoisie, not the working class in other countries. Capitalism can only drag us to war and barbarism. The working class struggle is the key to the only alternative: the worldwide communist revolution.