Pre-empt a possible World War III
by Rohini Hensman
A major difference, however, is that there is no military solution to this war. The attack can be, and to some extent has been, weakened by lack of support from most states, and anti-war activists are continuing to put pressure on governments not to provide any form of assistance to the aggressors. But this has not prevented the attack. Criticisms of the UN for failing to stop the war are misplaced. How can the UN pose a military challenge to a state whose stockpiles of nuclear weapons can blow up the earth several times over, a state which has demonstrated its readiness to use weapons of mass destruction in Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Vietnam and indeed Iraq itself, where tons of depleted uranium left after the first Gulf War caused an epidemic of cancer and birth defects? In order to confront the US militarily, the UN would need to have similar weapons, but this is certainly not desirable: one of its most important tasks is to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction, not to amass them on its own account! The importance of the UN lies in its moral authority, and it is crucially important that this should be strengthened by consistent opposition to a war that violates its most fundamental principles. Kofi Annan made a timid step in this direction when he said that if the US and UK start a war without UN backing, this will delegitimise not the UN - as the Bush-Blair axis were claiming - but the war itself; and the refusal of the majority of governments in the Security Council to be bribed or bullied into supporting a resolution authorising the attack on Iraq was an impressive display of their integrity.
Lets be realistic, however. Bush and his associates have so far shown as little regard for the UN and world opinion as Hitler and his associates showed for the League of Nations and world opinion. Those of us who are old enough to have been part of the Vietnam solidarity movement will remember that ultimately it was US public opinion that brought the war to a halt, and what turned US public opinion against the war was the escalating number of troops coming back in body bags. But such a development is not likely today, given the new cowardly policy of blowing babies to bits from a safe distance, which is based on the crude macho assumption that brute force will inspire shock and awe rather than anger and contempt.
In fact, it was the US-UK troops who got an awful shock when they were met with stiff resistance from Iraqi troops and hostility from the population. Having been deceived by the lies of their leaders, as well as reporters who are too deeply embedded in the Pentagon-White House propaganda machine to be able to distinguish fact from fiction, these soldiers apparently believed they would be welcomed as liberators. Excuse me, but from out here it looks as if they dont know the meaning of that word. Its true Saddam Hussein killed some 5,000 Kurds with the support of the US and UK, and lets say he killed 15,000 more of his own people. That would add up to 20,000, and make him a mass murderer. Desert Storm killed 200,000 Iraqis, and the subsequent sanctions 1.5 million more. That adds up to 1.7 million, 85 times more than the maximum killed by Saddam, and now US-UK forces are engaged in multiplying that number. Is that what they mean by liberation?
Even the lame excuse of collateral damage wont do in this case. Thats like armed robbers (the Bush-Blair axis and their troops) claiming that in the process of trying to kill the owners of the house they were robbing (Saddam and his troops), they accidentally killed their children (Iraqi civilians) who got in the way. Even if they genuinely did not intend to kill the children, would any judge or jury say they were not guilty of the murders? Much less commend them for liberating the children, even if the parents used to beat them? Yet this is the garbage we are expected to swallow, and which presumably those who support the war do actually swallow. If in the process of committing one crime (Aggression) the invaders also commit others (War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity), this is neither collateral damage nor liberation but mass murder, and they are guilty of at least three of the core crimes (the fourth being Genocide) that the International Criminal Court (ICC) was set up to deal with.
The problem with US public opinion is neatly summed up by the statistic that some 42 per cent of the US public apparently believes that Saddam Hussein was linked to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. A cartoon shows Bush circling the Q in IRAQ and the Q in AL QAEDA and drawing a line between them to demonstrate proof of a link, but even this is less illogical than the actual evidence he offered: Osama bin Ladens speech in which he denounced Saddam as an infidel! If 42 per cent of the US public sees this as proof of a link, and many more support the US invasion even if it means killing thousands or millions of Iraqis in their own country, what can we do? Clearly, systematic brainwashing has deprived these people of the power of logical thought and moral judgement, and therefore appeals to reason or ethics will not work unless they are jolted into re-examining their assumptions. In fact, the actual beginning of the war had the opposite effect, rallying public opinion behind their leaders in the US, Britain and Australia. Watching people being killed on television is obviously a popular pastime among a section of the population in these countries. Opponents of the war in the US and allied states have done a magnificent job mobilising protest within those countries and channellising worldwide protest to put pressure on the UN, but this is not enough.
We should remind ourselves at this point that the war will not end if Iraq is conquered: it will merely move elsewhere, just as it moved to Iraq once Afghanistan was conquered. A likely next candidate is Iran, which is just feeling its way back to democracy after the US overthrew Mossadeq half a century ago, since a democratic Iran is as much of a threat to US hegemony now as it was then; in fact, what the US did then was exactly the same as what it is trying to do now: carry out regime change in order to take over the countrys oil resources and hand them over to US companies. The longer the war goes on, the more innocent victims there will be, and the more there will be a terrorist and fundamentalist backlash worldwide. Moreover, other states may be tempted to follow the example of the Bush axis, and invade territory they wish to annexe or colonise. (Israel, of course, has done it already.) The entire world could descend into chaos. So it is in the interests of everyone (except for relations and associates of Bush who have oil and armaments interests) to end the war as soon as possible.
The only way to put a definitive end to the war is to force Bush and Blair to withdraw their troops back to their own countries and keep them there. But how can this be done? How is it possible to control a rogue state with huge stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction which is on a megalomaniac mission to conquer the world? In particular, what can those of us in developing countries do? Some of our governments have spoken out courageously against the war while a few have distinguished themselves by backing it, but most have evaded the issue by saying, in effect, We are helpless, theres nothing we can do. And we tend to go along with that, gripped by feelings of helplessness and despair as we watch innocent people being crippled and butchered; we feel defeated even as we go on our anti-war demonstrations and vigils. We need a force strong enough to defeat imperialism, but what could that possibly be?
Using globalisation against imperialism
Use globalisation against imperialism? But arent they the same thing? Let me explain what I mean.
Of course globalisation and imperialism can mean the same thing if that is how they are defined. But in that case, why use this relatively new word, globalisation, to refer to a phenomenon that has been around for centuries? If, on the other hand, we are talking about something genuinely new, we need to specify in what ways it is different.
This is not the place to go into lengthy theoretical debates about imperialism, but it is useful to note that in all the classical Marxist texts, imperialism involves political and military domination over territory and peoples outside the imperial nation. This is seen as arising from the nature of capitalism itself. Different theories emphasise different aspects: the requirement for an expanding market to sell capitalist commodities and realise the surplus value created by wage labour, the need for an unending supply of raw materials, or the export of capital and exploitation of cheap labour in order to offset the tendency of the rate of profit to fall. Max Adler and Lenin concurred in seeing imperialism as stabilising capitalism not just economically but also politically, by enabling the bourgeoisie to extend better wages and conditions to the proletariat in the imperialist countries, and thereby convince them of a community of interest between employers and workers.
However, once more or less the whole world has been colonised, imperialism itself becomes a fetter on the further expansion of capital. Each empire is an enclave which acts as a barrier to the expansion of capital from the others, as well as an obstacle to industrialisation in its own colonies. The success of independence and national liberation movements in the latter part of the 20th century, and the disintegration of the Soviet Union (which can also be seen as a process of decolonisation), were thus preconditions for a new phase of capitalism which is in many significant ways different from the imperialist world order. For example, countries like South Africa, Brazil, India and others have achieved a considerable degree of industrialisation; there are reverse flows of investment from former colonies to former imperialist countries, small as yet but growing; there are new players in financial markets, notably pension funds; and above all, information technology has revolutionised communication, and with it production. It is this new phase of capitalism which is generally referred to as economic globalisation, and often seen as being inseparable from US imperialism. However, a closer look shows that although economic globalisation certainly coincides with the rise of US imperialism, they are not the same thing, but are in fact opposed to each other.
Recently, the US economy has not prospered. And the reasons are not hard to see. The rate of accumulation, which measures the health of a capitalist economy, depends not only on the rate of profit but also on what proportion of surplus value is reinvested in capital goods and products (including services) for mass consumption, and what proportion is spent on the consumption of the capitalists. The latter portion constitutes a drain on the economy, a dead loss. This portion has risen massively, especially under the Bush administration. In 1970, the income of a CEO in the US was 20 times that of an ordinary worker; by 1998, this had shot up to 419 times that of an ordinary worker! (See www.gritty.org) As the Enron scandal and its aftermath showed, CEOs are ripping off companies while employees suffer the consequences. That is a huge deduction from capital which could otherwise be invested in modernising and boosting the economy.
Then consider armaments spending. When the British ruling class hunts and kills foxes, the guns and horses are paid for out of surplus value. When the US state pays to hunt and kill human beings in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq, the missiles, warships, helicopters, aircraft and armed forces are paid for partly out of what might be called social wages (state expenditure on health care, education, and so on), and partly out of surplus value - not just the surplus value generated by the armaments industry, but surplus value deducted from other branches of production. So although the armaments industry may be minting money, this is at the cost of pulling down the overall rate of accumulation in a big way. Militarism, which was an asset in the epoch of imperialist expansion, becomes a liability in the epoch of globalisation.
By doggedly trying to pursue a policy of imperialism at a time when globalisation has made it obsolete, US leaders have run their own economy into the ground. In only one respect has US imperialism served the interests of the US population, although at the cost of people in other countries: through US control over the IMF and World Bank, and the establishment of the US dollar as world currency, it forces the rest of the world to pay for its adventures and cover its losses.
Apart from economic globalisation, there has also been cultural globalisation. Most people think of this as meaning the spread of Coca Cola and McDonalds, ignoring a much more profound change that has been taking place since the end of WW II. This is the recognition of universal human and democratic rights, and the establishment of institutions that are supposed to promote and defend them. Some of the basic facets of this new global culture are the belief that all human beings are entitled to equal respect and concern, equal rights and opportunities; the recognition of individual accountability and responsibility for actions, as against the barbaric practice of collective punishment; and acknowledgement of the oneness of humanity which demands solidarity with all those whose humanity is violated, wherever they are. The acceptance, through the UN, that these principles should operate both within and across countries - that, for example, the unprovoked attack by one state on the people and territory of another is aggression, which is a crime in international law - marks a new stage in human history, however flawed the institutions and machinery for implementing them might be.
The ideas, of course, are not new: they have been around for a long time. In the first Book of Kings, there is a story in which King Ahab and his wife Jezebel get Naboth killed in order to take possession of his vineyard. God sends the prophet Elijah to ask, Have you killed, and also taken possession? end to predict horrible deaths for the murderous expropriators. (Obviously Bush, Blair and Sharon, currently engaged in killing and taking possession of other peoples lands, do not believe in the God of Elijah.) Religions like Buddhism and Christianity preached equality, universal love and liberation from oppression, and philosophers like Kant worked out humane and democratic principles to govern interactions between citizens of the world. But such ideas had never been embodied in an institution, nor could they be during the epoch of imperialism, which can only be justified by a racist belief in the inferiority of the colonised. They had to await the advent of globalisation before they could take shape more concretely.
The feeling that globalisation marks a momentous change in the world system is shared by many; it is expressed, for example, in The Long Twentieth Century by Giovanni Arrighi (Verve, 1994) and Empire by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt (Harvard University Press, 2000). I would agree with Arrighis thesis that US hegemony is waning, but disagree that it is simply giving way to a new cycle of accumulation with its centre in the Far East. Here Negri and Hardt seem more correct in their belief that a tectonic shift is taking place in the nature of capitalism itself, with a new, multilateral system emerging; however, I would not agree with their contention that the US has a central role to play in this new system. There seems to be no essential difference between US imperialism and the older varieties, apart from the fact that, emerging at a time when decolonisation was taking place throughout the world, it has had to cover its naked colonialism with a fig-leaf of fake democracy. Even a cursory look at the regimes it has sponsored makes it very clear that the aim is to overthrow democratic regimes and install authoritarian ones. The most recent example is their attempt to overthrow Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. The reason is obvious. A democratic regime, by definition, strives to uphold the rights and interests of the people who vote it to power, but this is not compatible with upholding the interests of an imperialist power engaged in oppressing those people. Therefore, no democracy.
The fig-leaf keeps falling off, even today. At first, the rationale for pounding Afghanistan into rubble was supposedly to find Osama bin Laden. He was not found, and yet the operation is claimed as a victory. The only conclusion we can draw is that the real purpose was to install a puppet regime that Bush could control. In Iraq too, the original purpose claimed was to destroy Saddam Husseins alleged weapons of mass destruction. Yet as soon as weapons inspections seemed likely to establish the absence of such weapons, it suddenly became regime change: once again, the installation of a regime Bush can control. Unstinting support for Israels settler colonialism in Palestine while paying lipservice to the idea of a Palestinian state is another example.
Underlying all this is blatant racism. Everything the Bush team says and does expresses the conviction that we natives are less than equal, our lives are expendable. The outrage at the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US compared with the justification of subsequent US terrorist attacks on Afghanistan that killed a larger number of civilians. Harping on about Iraqs weapons of mass destruction without mentioning that the US has vast stockpiles of them, and has used them to slaughter a much larger number of people. The doctrine of the pre-emptive strike: can you imagine the outcry if Iraqis, rightly anticipating an attack on their country, had carried out a pre-emptive strike on the US? Suddenly remembering the Geneva Conventions when five US prisoners of war are shown on TV, whereas hundreds of Afghani prisoners of war can be massacred with impunity, and we are repeatedly treated to the spectacle of others being tortured at Camp X-ray in Guantanamo Bay.
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