The elections in Palestine and Iraq, we are told, have been great triumphs for democracy. George Bush was euphoric about them in his State of the Union speech. The peoples of the Middle East are not just getting peace but freedom and democracy too!
For Bush, spreading such noble ideals around the planet is the sacred mission of the USA. Few of the USA’s main imperialist rivals – Germany, France, Russia, etc – failed to heed the message: despite the Iraq fiasco, US imperialism will continue to assert its interests wherever it chooses.
The elections in the Middle East have indeed provided a short-lived gain for those interests. In Palestine, the election of the ‘moderate’ Mahmoud Abbas as successor to Arafat offers the possibility of reining in the radical Islamic groups like Hamas who tend to adopt an anti-US position. There is already a plan for Abbas to meet Sharon and Israeli troops have handed over police-keeping duties to the Palestinian Authority in certain parts of the West Bank. The elections in Iraq showed the relative weakness of the ‘insurgent’ forces. Although they managed to carry out some murderous attacks on polling day, they failed to prevent the elections from going ahead. The very fact that they took place can be presented as a propaganda victory by the US. Although the White House has been obliged to officially admit that its main justification for invading Iraq, Saddam’s Weapons of Mass Destruction, do not exist, it can still claim that the establishment of a democratic Iraq was a goal worth fighting for.
But the democratic festivities in the Middle East are certainly not a gain for the oppressed in Iraq and Palestine or anywhere else, despite Bush’s claim that the interests of the US coincide with the needs of the oppressed, the victims of tyranny around the world.
The Iraqi elections were highly militarised: because of the threats by the terrorist gangs, military regulations were made even tougher than usual: borders closed, extra patrols, curfews, banning of private cars on polling day. Whole areas of Iraq – essentially the Sunni-dominated ones – stayed out of the election, either because of intimidation by the insurgents or out of sympathy for their arguments.
This then was hardly a model of democratic good practice, and many critics of the US occupation have pointed this out. But for us that is not the point. Even in the best of cases capitalist democracy is a fraud. It is used to hide the fact that, whatever political form it adopts, capitalist society is in essence a dictatorship of the ruling class, of the rich, the powerful, the state bureaucrats, the generals and police-chiefs. This applies to democratic America and Britain just as much to Iraq under Saddam or Iran under the Mullahs.
This view of democracy – the marxist view – will no doubt be branded by apologists for the war as giving comfort to the Islamic terrorist gangs who also attack democracy. And it is true there are many fake ‘socialists’ who wave the flag for the so-called ‘Resistance’ in Iraq . But real communists oppose capitalist democracy because it is a barrier to the liberation of humanity and the elimination of all forms of state power; the radical Islamists oppose democracy because they believe that mankind must always live under a hierarchical state. And while communists seek to act on the consciousness of the exploited, to remind them of the fact that their own struggles have already revealed the forms of organisation through which they can emancipate themselves (the soviets or workers’ councils), the Islamists try to enforce their dogma through the violent intimidation of the masses: “you vote, we kill you”.
The working class must not fall into this false dilemma: Bush or Saddam, democracy or Islamism. It can only free itself by finding its own path, by engaging in its own struggles, and discovering its own perspective – the perspective of social revolution.
The capitalist perspective is chaos
Even viewed as a gain for US imperialism, the euphoria over the elections in Iraq being displayed by the Bush administration will not last.
The perspective opening up after these elections is in fact the dismemberment of Iraq. The Sunnis, virtually excluded from the electoral process, will emerge as an even more marginalised sector of the population. This can only increase the scope for the Sunni ‘insurgency’. The likelihood is that the religious Shia factions will dominate the new government: at the time of writing, the United Iraqi Alliance, under the spiritual guidance of Ayatollah Sistani, seems to be well ahead. And while a secular Shia like the current Prime Minister Alawi is abjectly pro-US, the majority of these factions, particular the radical elements around Moqtadar al-Sadr, are hostile to the US occupation. What’s more, these are forces closely connected to Iran, which has invested heavily in the Shia parties, and which certainly aims to win greater influence over its neighbour. At the same time Kurdish demands for independence are set to grow louder: “the Kurds want at all cost to include the region of Kirkuk, with its immense oil wealth, in their autonomous zone, which the Sunnis and Shiites don’t seem ready to accept. There will be frictions, perhaps confrontations. The hypothesis of a slide towards a division of the country – in principle rejected by the US as by all of Iraq’s neighbours – even of a civil war, cannot be excluded” (Le Monde 5.1.05). These frictions will certainly whet the appetite of all the powers – regional and global – who will seek to gain their own advantages from the USA’s difficulties.
Similarly, in Palestine, while the US will take comfort from any temporary lull in the round of terrorist strikes and military bombardments, the current ceasefire is extremely fragile. The new Sharon team, allied to the Labour party, has merely modified its policy of out and out military conquest, despite the noises being made by Israel’s religious right who don’t understand the need for small concessions of land in order to preserve the overall strategy. Thus the retreat from Gaza is aimed merely at reinforcing Israel’s hold over the West Bank. And in order to remove any legitimacy from the demand by the Palestinian Authority to have East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, Israel has discretely dug up a 1950 law which sanctions the confiscation of Palestinian land without any compensation.
The drive towards war dominates the entire capitalist order: moments of peace are merely pauses in which knives are sharpened for the next round of conflict. How far the Middle East, and the world, is from peace under the present social order can be measured by the new threats being made against the regime in Tehran. Iran (along with Syria) was highlighted in Bush’s speech as a haven of global terrorism, an evil tyranny which is currently equipping itself with nuclear weapons. In her latest visit to Europe Condoleeza Rice played down the possibility of a US military attack on Iran “at this point”; but added that “while no one ever asks the American President to take all his options, any of his options, off the table, there are plenty of diplomatic means at our disposal to get the Iranians to finally live up to their international obligations.” (Yahoonews, 4.2.05) In other words, the military option is certainly being considered at some point. The fact that the US bourgeoisie can even pose the question in the midst of the chaos in Iraq shows that the irrational drive towards war is far stronger than any rational concern for the possible consequences. An attack on Iran would not only be a far greater disaster for the region than the invasion of Iraq, but it would sharpen imperialist rivalries on a world scale: “As for Iran, for the moment, there is an incompatibility between the American and European positions. For Washington, it is unacceptable for Iran to become a nuclear power, even if it means using force to prevent this. For the Europeans, what’s unacceptable is the use of military force” (Le Monde, 5.1.05).
This push towards war cannot be halted by calls for the capitalist carnivore to become vegetarian. And make no mistake, the USA is not the only ravenous imperialist beast. All countries are imperialist today, all of them are involved in this mad scramble to divide up the world in their own interests. This is why the war drive can only be opposed, and ultimately stopped, by the struggle of the working class against their exploiters in all countries. WR 5/2/5