Georgia/Russia: Imperialist conflicts sharpen

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Once again, the summer has seen an acceleration of military barbarism. At the very moment that all the countries were counting up their medals at the Olympic Games, there was a proliferation of terrorist attacks in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Turkey and India. In less than two months, 16 such attacks followed each other in a macabre dance that left scores of dead among the urban population. In Iraq and Afghanistan, there is full-scale war. The recent terrorist attack in Islamabad highlights the danger that Pakistan is also being dragged into this whirlpool.

But the slide into barbarism went furthest in Georgia.

Once again, the Caucasus was aflame. At the moment that Bush and Putin were taking part in the opening of the Olympics, so-called symbol of peace and reconciliation between nations, the Georgian president Saakashvili, the protégé of the White House, and the Russian bourgeoisie, were engaged in a grim massacre.

This war between Russia and Georgia resulted in a veritable ethnic cleansing on each side, with several thousand deaths, mainly among the civilian population.

As ever, it was the local populations (whether Russian, Ossetian, Abkhazian or Georgian) who were taken hostage by all the national factions of the ruling class.

On both sides, the same scenes of killing and horror. Throughout Georgia, the number of refugees, stripped of everything they owned, went up to 115,000 in one week.

And, as in all wars, each camp accused the other of being responsible for the outbreak of hostilities. 

But the responsibility for this new war and these new massacres does not only lie with the most direct protagonists. The other states who are now shedding hypocritical tears about the fate of Georgia have their hands soaked with blood from the worst kinds of atrocities, whether we're talking about the US in Iraq, France in the Rwandan genocide in 1994, or Germany, which, by backing the secession of Slovenia and Croatia, helped unleash the terrible war in ex-Yugoslavia in 1992.

And if today the US is sending warships to the Caucasus region, in the name of ‘humanitarian aid', it's certainly not out of any concern for human life, but simply to defend its interests as an imperialist vulture.

Are we heading towards a third world war?

The most striking thing about the conflict in the Caucasus is the increasing military tensions between the great powers. The two former bloc leaders, Russia and the US, once again find themselves in a dangerous head-to-head: the US Navy destroyers that have come with ‘food aid' for Georgia are only a short distance away from the Russian naval base of Gudauta in Abkhazia and the port of Poti which is occupied by Russian tanks.

This is all very nerve-wracking and we can legitimately pose a number of questions. What is the aim of this war? Will it unleash a third world war?

Since the collapse of the eastern bloc, the Caucasus region has been an important geostrategic prize between the great powers. The present conflict has been building up for some time. The Georgian president, an unconditional Washington partisan, inherited a state which from its inception in 1991 had been supported by the US as a bridgehead for Bush Senior's ‘New World Order'.

If Putin, by laying a trap for Saakashvili, into which he duly fell, used the occasion to re-establish his authority in the Caucasus, this was in response to the encirclement of Russian by NATO forces which had already been in operation since 1991.

Since the collapse of the eastern bloc in 1989, Russia has been more and more isolated, especially since a number of former eastern bloc countries (like Poland) joined NATO.

But the encirclement became intolerable for Moscow when Ukraine and Georgia also asked to join NATO. 

Above all, Russia could not accept the plan to set up an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic. Moscow knew perfectly well that behind this NATO programme, supposedly directed against Iran, Russia itself was the real target.

The Russian offensive against Georgia is in fact Moscow's first attempt at breaking the encirclement.

Russia has taken advantage of the fact that the US (whose military forces are bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan) had its hands tied in order to launch a military counter-offensive in the Caucasus, not so long after re-establishing its authority, at considerable cost, in the murderous wars in Chechnya.

However, despite the worsening of military tensions between Russia and the USA, the perspective of a third world war is not on the agenda.

There are today no constituted imperialist blocs, no stable military alliances, as was the case with the two world wars of the 20th century or the Cold War.

By the same token, the face-off between the US and Russia does not mean that we are entering a new Cold War. There's no going back and history is not repeating itself.

In contrast to the dynamic of imperialist tensions between the great powers during the Cold War, this new head-to-head between Russia and the US is marked by the tendency towards ‘every man for himself', towards the dislocation of alliances, characteristic of the phase of the decomposition of the capitalist system.

Thus the ‘ceasefire' in Georgia can only legitimate the victory of the masters of the Kremlin and Russia's superiority on the military level, involving a humiliating capitulation by Georgia to the conditions dictated by Moscow.

And Georgia's ‘patron', the US, has also suffered a major reverse here. While Georgia has already paid a heavy price for its allegiance to the US (a contingent of 2000 troops sent to Iraq and Afghanistan), in return Uncle Sam has been able to offer no more than moral support to its ally, issuing vain and purely verbal condemnations of Russia without being to raise a finger of practical help. 

But the most significant aspect of this weakening of US leadership resides in the fact that the White House had to swallow the ‘European' plan for a ceasefire - worse still, this was a plan dictated by Moscow.

While the USA's impotence was evident, Europe's role shows the level that ‘every man for himself' has reached. Faced with the paralysis of the US, European diplomacy swung into action, led by French president Sarkozy who once again represented no one but himself in all his comings and goings, following a policy that was entirely short-term and devoid of any coherence.

Europe once again looked like a basket of crabs with everyone in it pursuing diametrically opposed interests. There was not an ounce of unity in its ranks: on the one side you had Poland and the Baltic states, fervent defenders of Georgia (because they suffered over half a century of Russian domination and have much to fear in a revival of the latter's imperialist ambitions) and on the other side you had Germany, which was one of the most fervent opponents of Georgia and Ukraine joining NATO, above all because it wants to block the development of American influence in this region.

But the most fundamental reason that the great powers can't unleash a third world war lies in the balance of forces between the two main social classes: the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Unlike the periods which preceded the two world wars, the working class of the most decisive capitalist countries, notably in Europe and America, is not ready to serve as cannon fodder and sacrifice itself on the altar of capital.

With the return of the permanent crisis of capitalism at the end of the 1960s and the historic resurgence of the proletariat, a new course towards class confrontations was opened up: in the most important capitalist countries the ruling class can no longer mobilise millions of workers behind the defence of the national flag.

However, although the conditions for a third world war have not come together, we should not at all underestimate the gravity of the present historical situation.

The war in Georgia has increased the risk of destabilisation, of things running out of control, not only on the regional level, but also on the world level, where it will have inevitable implications for the balance of imperialist forces in the future. The ‘peace plan' is just a mirage. It contains all the ingredients of a new and dangerous military escalation, threatening to create a series of explosive points from the Caucasus to the Middle East.  

With the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea or the central Asian countries, some of which are Turkish-speaking, the interests of Iran and Turkey are also involved in this region, but the whole world is also part of the conflict. Thus, one of the objectives of the USA and the western European countries in supporting a Georgia independent from Moscow is to deprive Russia of the monopoly of Caspian Sea oil supplies towards the west via the BTC pipeline (from the name Baku in Azerbaijan, Tbilissi in Georgia and Ceyhan in Turkey). These are thus the major strategic stakes in this region. And the big imperialist brigands can all the more easily use people as cannon fodder in the Caucasus given that the region is a mosaic of different ethnicities. This makes it easy to fan the nationalist flames of war.

At the same time, Russia's past as a dominant power still exerts a very heavy weight and contains the threat of even more serious imperialist tensions. This is what lies behind the disquiet of the Baltic states, and above all of Ukraine which is a military power of quite another stature compared to Georgia and has its hands on a nuclear arsenal.

Thus, although the perspective is not of a third world war, the dynamic of ‘everyman for himself' is just as much the expression of the murderous folly of capitalism: this moribund system could, in its decomposition, lead to the destruction of humanity by plunging it into bloody chaos.

In the face of all this chaos and military barbarism, the historical alternative is more than ever ‘socialism or barbarism', world communist revolution or the destruction of humanity. Peace is impossible in capitalism; capitalism carries war within itself. And the only future for humanity lies in the proletarian struggle for the overthrow of capitalism.

But this perspective can only become concrete if the workers refuse to serve as cannon-fodder for the interests of their exploiters, and firmly reject nationalism.

Everywhere the working class must put into practice the old slogan of the workers' movement: ‘The workers have no country. Workers of all countries unite!'

In the face of the massacre of populations and the unleashing of military barbarism, it's obvious that the proletariat cannot remain indifferent. It has to show its solidarity with its class brothers in the countries at war, first of all by refusing to support one camp against the other, and secondly by developing its own struggles against its own exploiters in all countries. This is the only way it can really fight against capitalism and prepare the ground for its overthrow and for the construction of a new society without national frontiers and wars.  

RI 27/9/8

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