Saturday, December 13, 2008

Understanding Imperialism

Sandra Bloodworth | Socialist Alternative

“I will never apologise for the United States.

I don’t care what the facts are.”

George Bush the First in 1988 when a US missile cruiser in the Persian Gulf shot down an Iranian passenger jet, killing 290 people.

“We think the price is worth it.”

Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State, in December 1996 when it was reported that UN sanctions had killed 576,000 Iraqi children under the age of five.

Today, in the name of “freedom” and “democracy” - hope-laden words - as many as 250,000 Iraqis lie dead, Iraqis and Afghanis live with the brutality of military occupation by the US and it allies and over 20,000 US soldiers are dead or maimed.

In a world where facts are irrelevant, and language is used as if we are living in a never-ending mad hatter’s party, the protests of millions keep alive some sense of human sanity. However, if we are to not just protest, but begin to challenge the source of the barbarity, we need to understand what we are up against.

The idea that Bush is a homicidal maniac surrounded by greedy bastards is appealing. But it implies we just need well-intentioned politicians and business people. As the Indian writer and activist Arundati Roy said: “It’s true that [George Bush the Second] is a dangerous, almost suicidal pilot, but the machine he handles is far more dangerous than the man himself.”

Understanding that machine provides us with the tools we need to disable it.

Capitalism breeds war

Two Russian revolutionaries - Lenin and Nikolai Bukharin - explained why war is an inevitable result of capitalism when they analysed the causes of World War I.

Capitalism is a system of competition, but there is an inbuilt contradiction: successful companies buy up those that go broke, getting ever bigger. Lenin wrote: “Marx had proved that free competition gives rise to the concentration of production, which, in turn, at a certain stage of development, leads to monopoly.” Ever-bigger capitalist corporations combine in cartels to keep rivals out of the market. Just think of OPEC, the modern cartel of oil exporting states. Their website sums it up: “OPEC’s mission is to … ensure the stabilisation of oil prices in order to secure … a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital to those investing in the petroleum industry.”

By the twentieth century, giant corporations had developed interests extending beyond the borders of their national state. They struggle to out-compete each other in an increasingly integrated world market (called globalisation today). Microsoft, Shell, Nike, BHP-Billiton are typical.

However, contrary to many anti-globalisation theories today, we are not just confronted with marauding multinational corporations. National states have to control “spheres of influence” in order to maximise access to raw materials, markets for goods and investment, trade routes and the like for their multinational corporations. They may use economic and political means, but “the mutual relations of those states - [are] in the final analysis the relations between their military forces”.

Lenin and Bukharin concluded that imperialism - the competition between powerful nations to dominate areas of the globe - defines modern capitalism and this makes war inevitable.

Twentieth century imperialism

As Lenin and Bukharin predicted, World War I did not end the drive to war; it only laid the basis for a further re-division of the world between the major powers. World War II was an imperialist war, not a war for democracy. “War for democracy” - sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it? That’s because the machine was the same - only the drivers were different.

The war ended with a new re-partitioning of the world - by Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. The Cold War after 1945 was a stand-off between two new superpowers, the Stalinist USSR and the US. The massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction by both sides were justified by the lies that capitalism was defending freedom from the tyranny of communism, and conversely, that the “workers’ states” - which were in reality state-run capitalist states - were a bastion against vile capitalism. It finally ended when this madness brought on the collapse of the USSR’s imperialist bloc between 1989 and 1991.

However, the inbuilt contradictions of capitalism gave rise to a new balance of power. The lunacy of wasting billions of dollars on more than enough nuclear weapons to blow the earth away sustained the longest economic boom ever. Germany and Japan, forbidden to re-arm, gained an economic advantage, riding on the back of the boom to modernise their economies without the burden of military spending. By the end of the long boom in the mid-1970s, the US was no longer the supreme economic power it had been.

The dominance of the US ruling class rested more on military than economic might. Increasingly they needed to send a message to other rising powers such as China, Japan or a united Europe that the US could and would take on any states that challenged its status as the world’s superpower. But the defeat in Vietnam undermined US confidence.

When Saddam Hussein, their former bully boy in the Middle East, looked too independent, they seized the opportunity, not to rid the world of the “new Hitler” as they proclaimed in 1991, but to strike a blow for their future. “Humanitarian” interventions in places such as the Balkans and Somalia were used to put the “Vietnam syndrome” behind them. And they bamboozled even some on the left into believing US might could be humane.

The War of Terror

The supposed “war on terror” is nothing more than the US ruling class’s drive to shore up their empire. Saddam and Al Qaeda are just a convenient pretext for US military bases in the strategic Middle East and Afghanistan, a corridor for supplies of natural gas and oil from Central Asia.

But much more than control of that strategic commodity is at stake. It is about an increasingly belligerent capitalist class who rely on military might to prevent a challenge to their power. Bases in Afghanistan complete the encirclement of China, a potential rival. And the wars demonstrate the barbarity the US is willing to unleash.

Nuclear war - the logic of imperialism

Bush’s drive towards a nuclear strike against Iran is, from the point of view of the US rulers, not madness, but the most reliable way to ensure they remain top imperialist dog.

Australia, as a middle-ranking power, allies itself with the US as a central part of its own imperialist drive to dominate the area regarded as “our own backyard”. Howard and Australia’s capitalists want to go down the nuclear road because it gives them an entry into the nuclear imperialist club. Even if Australian capitalists are only minor players, they’re increasingly flexing their muscles on “their” block. And they have enough uranium to make themselves indispensable to that club.

During the Cold War even many on the left argued that nuclear weapons threatened all of humanity, so at least some capitalists could be anti-war allies. But capitalists take risks all the time. Short term gain far outweighs long term risks, and certainly wins out over humanitarianism.

How can we stop war?

Once we recognise that wars are inevitable in capitalist society, it follows that we can’t rely on parliamentary parties that want to run this system. The US Democrats, in the midst of a massive anti-war campaign, ran a pro-war candidate for President in 2004. The ALP government enthusiastically sent troops to the Persian Gulf in 1991. Even the Greens, who use anti-war rhetoric, don’t consistently campaign to mobilise demonstrations against war, and they actually support the use of imperialist Australian troops to interfere in states in “our neighbourhood”. The German Greens campaigned for years against war and the nuclear industry. Once in government, they attacked anti-nuke campaigners and sent troops to bomb the Balkans in the mid 1990s.

To end the wars we will have to build a movement that mobilises the strength of the mass of people to demonstrate, strike and organise so that governments and bosses know they will have no peace while they occupy, bomb or exploit other countries. That movement needs to be implacably opposed to imperialism, fighting every deployment of imperialist troops, whatever the “justification”.

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