Fifteen years ago, in 1989, the 'Soviet' imperialist bloc fell apart. This event, which was basically the fruit of the world economic crisis of capitalism, was to have immediate and extremely important repercussions on the life of this social system. The working class should recall that at that moment the leaders of the world bourgeoisie promised us a new epoch of peace and stability: the collapse of Stalinism would mean the end of barbarism. The bloody evolution of the real world would soon show exactly the opposite. Right from the start of the 1990s, barbarism more and more became a permanent fact of life, generalising itself across the planet, from the weakest parts of the capitalist system to the most advanced industrialised countries. The new epoch we saw was actually one in which capitalism entered into the final phase of its decline - the phase of decomposition. In place of an imperialist conflict which had been contained inside the iron corset of the competition between the US and Russian blocs, a new military logic came to the fore, a logic in which each capitalist country would defend its interests outside of any stable alliance under the rule of a dominant imperialism - the result being an accelerating slide into chaos.
Capitalism faced with the beginning of the phase of decomposition
In 1991, the first Gulf war opened the door to the new world disorder, even though this conflict briefly allowed the USA to reaffirm its role as the world's leading power. The US government had pushed for this war. It used its ambassador in Iraq, April Glaspie, to give Saddam the impression that any conflict between Iraq and Kuwait was an "internal Arab problem" and that the US was not really interested in the question. In fact this was a trap for Saddam that conned him into invading Kuwait, thus giving the US the pretext for a massive military intervention. For US imperialism, this war was the means to brutally reassert its authority over its main rivals, in particular Germany, France and Japan. Since the collapse of the Russian bloc, these powers had been increasingly defending their own interests and challenging US leadership.
There is no doubt that the US achieved an important victory at this point. It even gave itself the luxury of allowing Saddam Hussein to remain the master of Baghdad, in order to avoid Iraq sinking into total chaos (like it has today). But this was also a short-lived victory. There could be no real softening of competition at the economic level, while on the military level the tendency towards 'every man for himself' was even more pronounced, forcing the US again to resort to its military superiority and so counter the challenge coming from the other powers. In 1991 we could already point out that "whether on the political/military level or the economic level, the perspective is not one of peace and order but of war and chaos between nations" (International Review 66, 'Chaos'). The process of the decomposition of capitalism, and with it the weakening of US leadership, was to continue and advance throughout the 90s. Only a few months after the 1991 Gulf war, the same major powers were responsible for a new round of slaughter, this time in the Balkans. Now it was Germany, which by pushing Slovenia and Croatia to proclaim their independence from the Yugoslav federation, played a key role in unleashing the war. In response to this thrust by German imperialism, the four other main powers (USA, Britain, France and Russia) encouraged the Belgrade regime of Milosevic to wage a particularly murderous counter-offensive. But the historic weakening of the USA was already a factor in the situation, and this resulted in successive shifts in alliances: thus the USA supported Serbia in 1991, Bosnia in 1992 and Croatia in 1994. Like Afghanistan soon afterwards, the Balkans became a theatre of almost permanent civil war. To this day in Afghanistan, no authority, whether local or American, can impose itself outside of Kabul.
A world plunging into anarchy and barbarism
The slide into anarchy and barbarism has accelerated even more dramatically since the events of September 2001 and the USA's 'war on terrorism'. After the Balkans and Afghanistan, Iraq today has become the most eloquent expression of this. It is hard to convey the reality of life in Iraq today. Thursday 24 June, one week before the 'transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi people', is a graphic example. On that day there were no less than seven terrorist bombs in Moussul alone, leaving at least 100 dead. At the same time there were armed confrontations in numerous Iraqi towns, such as Bakuba and Najaf. The country is in such a state of chaos that the political and military authorities can only control limited geographical areas. The new Prime Minister, Iyad Allawi, has announced with great aplomb that he will personally take charge of the struggle against violence. Meanwhile the confrontations continue, and there is a rising number of kidnappings, usually ending in brutal murder. The decapitation of hostages, transmitted to computer screens all over the world, has become a common practice, just another instrument of war like the terrorist attacks which aim simply to kill as many people as possible. Torture and terrorism have always been part of armed conflicts in history, but they were secondary phenomena. The fact that they are now so central is yet another expression of the advanced decomposition of the capitalist system.
The perspective in Iraq can only be one of growing instability. The USA's loss of control is obvious. The New York Times has declared that "the Coalition forces have not only failed to ensure the security of the Iraqi population, but even to realise the objective identified as a priority by the provisional administration: the total re-establishment of electricity before the heat of the summer". In Iraq today, everything is lacking, including water, and the population faces a terrible struggle for survival. Kurds, Shiites and Sunnis are more and more pulling in opposing directions. And a new phenomenon is spreading: the appearance of fanatical armed gangs taking action against American interests, operating outside of any control by the official religious or ethnic bodies. Even before it took over, the provisional government has been shown to be impotent and discredited.
The Washington Post writes that "Although the Bush administration has promised over and over again that the Iraqis will recover complete sovereignty, it's clear that American officials will maintain their grip over the key question of security". The USA has no escape route from the Iraq quagmire. It is unable to control the situation, even on the purely military level. The weakening of US power is expressed in particular by the fact that the USA has had to go to the UN with a US-British resolution which envisages the setting up of a multinational force with an American command. This recourse to the UN shows the limits of its ability to ensure its domination through the force of arms, even in a weak country like Iraq. And despite the initial declarations of satisfaction by all the members of the Security Council, this has only whetted the appetite of the other great powers, who aim to take advantage of every set back for the US. On 27 May, China, supported by Russia, France and Germany, distributed a document raising objections to the resolution and proposing major changes. In particular, it was demanded that the new Iraqi government should enjoy "full sovereignty on questions of the economy, security, justice and diplomacy". These powers also insisted that the mandate for the multinational force should end in January 2005 and that the provisional government be consulted on military operations except for measures of self-defence. This document was aimed directly against the US and shows that the objective of the other powers is to weaken the US as much as possible, whatever the consequences for the Iraqi population and the region as a whole.
Today the whole of south west Asia is being destabilised. There have been more and more terrorist attacks in Saudi Arabia, expressing growing tensions between the Ryad regime and increasingly fanatical Wahabi gangs. The virulent stance of some of the Shiite leaders in Iraq is also having repercussions on the stability of Iran. Conflict is also hotting up in Turkey. On June 1, the Kurdish PKK announced a unilateral end to the ceasefire with the Turkish state. The Neue Zuerische Zeitung reported on 3 June that "Turkish army circles think that hundreds of armed PKK rebels have infiltrated Turkey from the north of Iraq in the last few weeks. The Turkish government has accused the Americans of doing nothing against the presence of the PKK in northern Iraq". The same Zurich daily observes that "a new outbreak of the war would be disastrous for the whole region".
Meanwhile, since the formation of the Sharon government in Israel, there has been a state of permanent war in the Middle East region. Sharon's plan for a 'retreat' from Gaza while maintaining control of most of the West Bank is basically a recipe for endless conflict; the logic of war has left behind any other approach to defending Israel's national interests. This ultimately suicidal policy has resulted in an increase in tensions between Israel and Egypt, which apart from Israel has been one of the USA's few reliable allies in the region. And in fact the US administration has less and less say about what Israel does - yet another expression of the inability of the USA to carry on acting as the world's gendarme. Furthermore, America's loss of control is only one expression of a more general loss of control by all the imperialist powers. The continuing conflict in Chechnya, which is now starting to spread into neighbouring Ingushia, poses a threat to Russia's control of its outlying republics; the resurgence of warfare in the Congo is revealing the incapacity of France to dominate its former dependency in that region of Africa. However much the other powers try to profit from America's weaknesses, they too are unable to stem the mounting tide of chaos.
Only the working class can stem this tide
Following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the USA declared that it would hunt down the terrorists and bring freedom and democracy to the world. The real results of the 'war against terrorism' are being written today in letters of blood. The dynamic of war and social breakdown displayed in Iraq, Sudan or the Congo is only a dramatic example of what lies in store for humanity as a whole if the working class allows capitalism to have its way. Furthermore the barbarism sweeping through these areas is also rebounding into the heart of Europe and of the European working class: the March 11 bombings in Madrid were deliberately aimed at killing as many Spanish workers as possible.
It is vital that workers understand that this slide into war and chaos is not due to this or that world leader. For example, it is evident that the Democratic candidate for the forthcoming presidential elections in the USA, John Kerry, has no alternative foreign policy to offer. Whoever wins the election, the implacable logic of imperialism will continue to determine US foreign policy. Neither is the current world disorder caused by a religious fanatic like Bin Laden. It is the irreversible bankruptcy of the capitalist mode of production which drags it into war; it is the total irrationality of capitalist war which more and more gives rise to fanatical factions of the bourgeoisie, whether terrorist war-lords like Bin Laden or the neo-Conservative fundamentalists around the current US administration. The only force which can oppose the mad logic of capitalism is the international class struggle. Workers must remember that it was the revolutions in Russia and Germany which put an end to the First World War. Today the communist revolution is more than ever the only alternative to capitalism's flight towards mass destruction.