The Spark

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

The International Situation:
From September 11 to War on Iraq

Oct 25, 2002

The following text appeared in issue number 69 of Lutte de Classe, the political journal of Lutte Ouvrière. The text was originally issued in October 2002, in preparation for Lutte Ouvrière's annual congress. We reprint it because it delineates, in a kind of outline form, the most important features of the political situation of the world today. We added the title and subheads.

The past year's international political situation has been dominated by the feverish activity of American imperialism on both the military and the diplomatic levels.

Within days after the September 11 attacks, the United States was given carte blanche by the United Nations, which allowed it to react whichever way it wanted. It unilaterally decided to wage war against Afghanistan and left no choice to neighboring countries, including Pakistan, or to the other imperialist powers than to align themselves with its decision. The year 2002 started with the installation in Afghanistan of a government led by Hamid Karzai the United States' faithful henchman and a friend of Unocal's (an oil company which is highly interested in building a pipeline through Afghanistan). It is coming to an end with the preparation for a new war against Iraq.

Last year, at our annual congress, we stated that "the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington and the diplomatic maneuvers and military operations which followed have not opened a new era in foreign relations but rather have merely revealed the nature of these foreign relations."

Using the emotion felt by the American public after the attacks and building on it to establish a warmongering climate directed first against Afghanistan, then against Iraq, Bush has been able, despite his questionable electoral victory, to establish and consolidate his status as president.

However, beyond the problem of the president's credibility, the American leadership has used the climate of national unity to openly assume the aggressive stance of a big imperialist power on the economic as well as on the political, diplomatic and military levels.

On the very day of the attacks, we publicly declared that we strongly opposed the September 11 attacks. We fully oppose terrorism which, even when it claims to act in favor of the population, is aimed at best at misleading the masses or, more generally, at paving the way for a dictatorship.

It must be added, concerning the Islamic fundamentalist movement behind the September 11 attacks, that its objectives are particularly reactionary on both the political and social levels. The groups who make up this movement, from al Qaeda to the GIA in Algeria, are deadly enemies of the proletariat.

Less than a year after the attacks, it is clear that their action has failed to weaken American imperialism; in fact, it has helped its leaders gain a popular support they would never have dreamed of before the attacks.

The huge manipulation of America's public opinion around the "fight against terrorism" is out of proportion with the existing threat. However, the campaign initiated by the present administration has been reinforced by all the political opinion makers and by all the media.

Today, the United States' policies are presented as deriving, directly or indirectly, from the necessities of the fight between democracy and fanaticism, good and evil, civilization and backwardness; in fact, behind all the moralistic justifications lie the necessities of a continued imperialist domination to ensure the control by the big industrial and financial conglomerates over the world's economy.

The United States remains the top terrorist, carrying out state terrorism on a large scale. Since the end of World War II, it has had recourse time and again to terrorist actions in order to intimidate the people it wanted to dominate starting with the A-bombs launched on a nearly defeated Japan or the mass bombings of civilians in Germany.

Concerning the terrorism of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, it should be remembered that the United States played an important role in reinforcing this reactionary force in order to counterbalance the influence of so-called "progressive" or pro-Soviet trends, and that its secret services helped equip these terrorist groups. Indian writer, Arundhati Roy, who opposed the war against Afghanistan, was able to write a whole book on the subject, which she titled Bin Laden, America's Family Secret.

From "Soviet Threat" to the Surrealistic Threat of "Rogue States"

The demagogy around the "fight against the terrorist threat" and against the "rogue states" started replacing the demagogy based on the "Soviet threat" when the Soviet Union collapsed. However, it has reached unprecedented heights since the September 11 attacks.

The "Soviet threat" was a lie from the beginning of the "cold war" to its end; the Soviet bureaucrats were obviously unwilling to engage in a decisive conflict with the West. The lie was even grossly unbelievable when the "Soviet threat" was invoked to justify the United States' intervention in a number of conflicts where the only things that were threatened were the interests of American trusts or even the interests of a single company (as in Guatemala, in 1954).

But the Soviet Union was a genuine power. And even if its leaders insisted that they wanted to establish a "peaceful coexistence" with the United States, their maneuvers in favor of countries which distanced themselves from Washington and the existence of local tensions including armed struggles between the two blocs gave a certain credibility to the American leaders' demagogy.

It's a bit surrealistic today to pretend that states like Iraq, Iran, Libya or North Korea are potentially dangerous to the United States, or to present al Qaida as a major threat, replacing the former "Soviet bloc," thus justifying an unprecedented program of military spending.

Nevertheless, the impact of today's demagogy is undeniable: to the symbols of the collapsed Twin Towers and the burning Pentagon is cleverly added a pressure coming from the politicians, the judiciary and the media a pressure which, in many ways, is reminiscent of the McCarthy era.

The policies adopted by the United States have always been the expression of its interests as an imperialist power. At the time of the Soviet bloc, its own interests coincided with its role as policeman of the whole imperialist order.

From the Fiasco of Viet Nam to Going-It-Alone

After the fiasco of the Vietnam war and its impact on public opinion in terms of lost American lives, it became more difficult for political leaders to obtain the population's approval for aggressive foreign policies and military actions, especially when it meant putting the lives of American soldiers at risk.

At the time of its first intervention in Iraq, the United States felt the need to present its intervention as expressing the will of the "international community." The U.N.'s approval of this fable was useful not so much with respect to the rest of the world, but to American public opinion itself.

And in the former Yugoslavia, where the United States could more easily have pretended to step in for strictly humanitarian reasons, it chose to intervene in the name of NATO.

Today, in the course of his preparation of the war against Iraq, Bush has repeatedly said that he will declare war if he feels it necessary, with or without the U.N.'s consent. The farce being played out at the U.N., where French President Chirac was so proud to have shown his differences, is merely helping the American leaders to gain time and, perhaps, to hide their own hesitations concerning their next step; but they are certainly not trying to arrive at a collective decision. Having made its seem that its "global war against terrorism" is legitimate, the United States no longer hesitates to proclaim that what is good for it in every field is good for the rest of the world.

In the political circles of second-rate imperialist powers, it has become fashionable to deplore the United States' "unilateralism" and to deplore the failure to establish a multilateral decision- making mechanism after the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

Behind this demagogy, stands the desire of the "second fiddles" to play a role in the decision-making process of the imperialist world. French, British or German imperialism would like the imperialist world to be organized according to their interests as is the case for the United States. But they are not in a position to impose their views. Like it or not, they must accept the fact that, in a world dominated by the relationship of forces, they have no other choice but to accept the United States' decisions.

Dominating the World Economically in the Interests of All the Imperialisms

On the economic level, for almost a century now, the American economy has dominated the world.

World War II established its definitive supremacy over the old European imperialist powers which had bled each other in the course of two world wars.

The existence of the Soviet Union and, to a certain extent, of the political bloc around it, meant that part of the world, although it did not escape the pressures of the imperialist economy, partially escaped its control. This is no longer the case since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

During and after World War II, the United States used its economic power to impose a certain number of rules on the world imperialist economic system. American state interventionism, which was designed at the beginning to help American monopoly capital emerge from the 1929 crash and the depression years that followed, was gradually extended to the rest of the capitalist-dominated world through a number of bodies set up at Bretton Woods, like the IMF, the World Bank, the GATT (today's WTO), etc.

After having pushed government regulation to give new life to the capitalist world's economy, the United States then became the main advocate of deregulation in the early seventies.

The end of the colonial empires, followed by the collapse or the progressive disappearance of the barriers put up by a number of governments in poor countries to protect their economy, then by the collapse of the Soviet bloc this evolution created favorable conditions for the most powerful multinational trusts, the majority of which are American.

In the sixties, it was fashionable to predict the end of American supremacy. There was talk of a Japanese, German or even Italian "miracle." However, during the last three decades marked by the crisis and instability of the capitalist system, American imperialism has in fact reinforced its position as the leading power, way ahead of the other imperialist powers, not to mention the rest of the world. In order to preserve its domination, the United States has mixed the aggressiveness of its big corporations and its diplomacy toward the rest of the world with protectionism for its domestic market.

The economic power of American imperialism is based first of all on its fantastic productive base, its leading position in scientific research and technology, but also on plundering the rest of the world its big corporations and their subsidiaries have thrown a net over the entire world.

Moreover, while U.S. monopoly capital defends "its own national interest," that is the interests of its own big corporations, at the same time it acts on behalf of monopoly capital of the whole world.

Thanks to its economic power and to the role played by the dollar in the global economy, the United States continues to attract capital not only from other imperialist powers but also from the bourgeois classes in the poor countries, not to mention the drug lords or Russia's bureaucratic and criminal mafia.

This is why those who attack American imperialism without attacking imperialism as such, in fact align themselves with their own imperialist bourgeoisie and think stupidly besides.

While remaining rivals, the different nation-based imperialisms share common, closely interconnected interests. The leaders of American imperialism are thus encouraged to present their country's interests in other words, the interests of American corporations as the interests of the imperialist world as a whole. Indeed, their attitude corresponds to a certain reality.

U.S. Military Imperialism

Economic imperialism extends into military imperialism. In spite of the disappearance of the "Soviet enemy," the U.S. military budget has reached levels that had never been reached even during the worst periods of the "Cold War."

The last U.S. military budget, voted for the year 2003, amounts to 379 billions dollars, that is a 10.7% increase compared to the previous year. This U.S. military budget is larger than the combined military spending of the 15 next biggest military powers after the U.S. And this military budget is expected to grow rapidly through 2007, widening the gap even more between the U.S.'s military and that of the rest of the world. The economic and the military features of this spending are closely interwoven.

This military spending is aimed at ensuring the United States' presence in a growing number of countries around the world. The war in Afghanistan, in particular, was an opportunity for the American army to reinforce its presence in an area formerly under Soviet control, including the Caucasus and other Central Asian countries.

This spending is also vital for American monopoly capital. Some of the biggest corporations, including Boeing, General Motors, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and many others, basically live off orders from the Pentagon. The huge military budget means that they can count on huge guaranteed profits; but they also use this exclusive domestic market to reinforce their position on the world market. The European corporations, in particular those in the arms industry, are justifiably afraid of progressively losing markets in the states of their former zones of economic influence

Another factor that deserves to be noted is the considerable increase of the sums devoted to "research and development" in the U.S. military budget. In every imperialist country, big capital counts on the state and more precisely on the army to finance research. However, the sums devoted to research by the United States are considerably larger than anywhere else; this increases the domination of American industry, including on the technological level.

Zones of Tension throughout the World Aggravated by U.S. Policies

This year, it would be useless to make a list of all the zones of tension. There are too many. And the aggressive policies of U.S. imperialism have done nothing to defuse them; on the contrary, U.S. policies have aggravated them and even created new ones.

In Israel, Sharon's reactionary government was able to benefit from American policy to put an end to anything that looked like a negotiation process with the Palestinians and to call into question the very existence of a Palestinian Authority that caricature of a state apparatus set up in the preceding years. The Israeli leaders have stopped short of physically eliminating Arafat. But by likening him to bin Laden, they have methodically destroyed the few symbols that remained of his power with Washington's approval.

In Afghanistan itself, not only did the American intervention not stabilize the situation, outside the small area controlled by the pro-Western government around Kabul, it reinforced the ability of the local warlords to tear the country to pieces.

The mounting tensions between India and Pakistan were also a by-product of American policy in this area. It can be easily predicted that many of the conflicts that have flared up in the Caucasus and Central Asia since the collapse of the Soviet Union will grow with the presence of American troops in the area and with the inclusion of local leaders in the alliance system set up by Washington.

Another even more predictable fact is that if Washington's present warlike agitation is followed by a genuine intervention in Iraq, be it only to get rid of Saddam Hussein, it will upset the situation in the whole Middle East. The exact consequences of an intervention cannot be foreseen, but nothing guarantees that the Iraqi people, despite the fact that they have suffered for so long under Saddam Hussein, will welcome the Americans as liberators on the contrary.

Consequently, and despite the United States' military superiority, nothing guarantees that it would be a short war. Even after a war is won, the question will remain of who can replace Saddam Hussein and prevent possible upheavals among the Kurd and Shiite minorities. After the war of 1991, Saddam Hussein himself was given the dirty job an American army would otherwise have had to do.

It is also impossible to foresee the consequences of a war between the United States and Iraq on the other Arab countries especially if it is a long war. Throughout the area, from Saudi Arabia to Egypt, the pro-American regimes are "sitting on a volcano," caught as they are between United States demands and the aspirations of their own people.

The consequences of American foreign policies were felt in Russia itself.

To launch a military intervention in Georgia, the Russian president even used it as an argument that Georgia was too lenient with "Chechen terrorists" who found refuge in that country while in fact he wanted to reinforce Russia's positions with respect to the "nearby foreign countries," that is, the states formed after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The American attitude encouraged Putin to go on with his war in Chechnya, which he presented as one of the battlefields of the "war against international terrorism." Putin's claims were further reinforced by the Moscow hostage-taking episode which, of course, he analyzed as threat coming from abroad.

Pax Americana Has Nothing to Do with Peace.

The domination by the U.S. spells permanent wars for the basic reason that imperialism's domination over the world increases poverty everywhere, revives and aggravates problems that, it was once hoped, history would solve such as the conflicts opposing micro-nations or ethnic groups.

The Ivory Coast is a good example of this.

The ongoing military rebellion is the expression of the decay of the state apparatus, which has been supported by France, the former colonial power, while being corrupted from top to bottom and undermined by the existing rivalries between the many would-be heirs of former dictator Houphouet-Boigny.

However, the fight opposing the army, which so far has remained faithful to the legal president, Gbagbo, and the rebels has opened up a genuine "Pandora's box" of ethnic-based confrontations. For years, such confrontations have been used and thus reinforced by all those who wanted to build up their image as political leaders. In many places, ethnic-based violence often perpetrated by the police, the loyalist army or armed groups sponsored by the regime has led to lynchings or collective murders. French troops have been deployed in the country only to separate the two contending bits of the state apparatus and not to deal with the persecutions. French imperialism's only preoccupation is to prevent the total collapse of a state apparatus which defends French interests against the local population.

This is why revolutionaries can only call for the immediate withdrawal of French troops from the Ivory Coast and from all the former colonies where there still are French military bases.

Last year, in the conclusion of our analysis of the international situation, we outlined that the opposition to the world order was coming mostly from reactionary forces and added the following: "The only alternative to this situation is the rebirth of a working class revolutionary movement, opening up for mankind new perspectives, instead of a renewed and growing barbarism. Fundamentally, these perspectives depend on the working class's capacity to play, on the international scene, the role it played during the international rise of socialism during the second half of the 19th century and after the Russian revolution of 1917." We can only repeat here what we said then.