The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow and World War III

Jan 7, 2024

The Middle East is burning. Israel bombards Gaza, again. Trying to escape, a million people crowd into Rafah. The Israeli army carries out raids on the West Bank, and Israeli “settlers” drive Palestinian herders from their villages. Hezbollah sends rockets into northern Israel. Israel launches air strikes into Lebanon. 80,000 people flee from their homes in northern Israel; 75,000 people flee in the south of Lebanon. The U.S. sends drones against a neighborhood in Baghdad, searching for militias. (And why does the U.S. have troops in Iraq and Syria?) Houthi rebels use fishing boats to stop oil tankers in the Red Sea. A Hamas leader and six other Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are killed in an Israeli rocket attack on Beirut. Bombs are set off at a memorial gathering in Iran, killing nearly 100 people. ISIS (the Islamic State) claims credit for it.

The match for the Middle East fires may have been struck in the region, but imperialism laid the tinder for it.

In 1908, large-scale reserves of oil were discovered in Persia—today it’s called Iran. European powers already had military bases in the Middle East. Britain and France controlled the Suez Canal at one end of the Red Sea. Britain controlled Aden—today Yemen—at the other end. Together, their armies controlled the trade routes through which Asia’s wealth was brought to Europe.

After World War I, Britain and France carved up the Middle East, posting more troops in the region, extending their control. More oil reserves were found—in what after World War II would become Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Kuwait, the Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia.

After World War II, the Middle East was again carved up. Lines drawn arbitrarily on a map established new countries. The different tribal groups, clans and peoples were cut into bits and pieces.

The most reactionary forces were established as the new rulers of the new countries. Warlords were turned into kings and princes. Pirates were transformed into sheiks. Imperialism provided the military forces to put them in place. Each of them was directly tied to one of the imperialist states—Britain, France or, eventually, the United States.

Religion was reinforced. Islam, Judaism, Christianity held the believers in check.

The different peoples living there had no say in the matter. They didn’t decide what the new states would be. Nor who would rule them. They didn’t decide together with their neighbors what future they would have. They didn’t decide that some people would be shipped out and some imported. Those decisions were made in London, in Paris, and later on, confirmed in Washington, D.C.

The conditions for fires in the Middle East were laid down in London, Paris, and Washington.

The myth may have it that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over a lantern, setting Chicago on fire. But the cause of a massive fire doesn’t depend on one bad-tempered cow. Real-estate interests crowded people together to maximize their profit. They laid the conditions for the fire to destroy Chicago long before Mrs. O’Leary even got a cow.

Wars don’t start from one or two stupid incidents either. The conditions for them are laid.

Today, the conditions for a new world war have been laid. The capitalist economy has been in crisis for 50 years, and the capitalists and their governments have not been able to find a way out of it. In the scramble for profit, they pursued “little wars": Korea, Algeria, Vietnam, Lebanon, Iraq, Congo, Kenya, the South of Africa. Some wars are over, but their after-effects continue to spread.

The world today is like that Chicago neighborhood. And no bad-tempered cow will be needed to set off the fires of World War III.

Capitalism has more than enough pyromaniacs itching to start the conflagration. This is the future capitalism is preparing for the peoples of the world.

It’s what we face until the working class becomes conscious of its own interests and its own capacities, until it gathers its forces for the fight only it can make to throw out capitalism.