- Thursday, 28 February 2008
- Written by In Defence of Marxism
The process of European Union towards integration has now been halted. This was shown at the 2007 EU summit, which was supposed to agree on a new European Constitution but only served to expose deep divisions between the different European bourgeoisies. Two years after French and Dutch voters rejected it, the continent's assorted prime ministers and presidents have salvaged large parts of the old text and stitched them together into a new "reform treaty".
An expanded union of 27 countries could not hope to function on rules designed for a 15-nation block. The proposal for a rejigged voting system immediately ran into resistance from the Poles. This forced the others to agree to keep the current system of voting in force until 2014, with a further three year transition period after that. And at the end of that period the EU may, if it chooses, revert back to the old system. In other words, the whole thing is off for a decade or so.
The tendency towards greater integration, which appeared unstoppable, was predicated on economic growth. But this has now stalled. The European Central Bank raised interest rates to 4% in June 2007, its eighth quarter-point increase since December 2005. The European bourgeois is worried about inflation and the latest rate rise is unlikely to be the last. Growth is expected to be around two percent in 2008.
Under these conditions the tendency towards integration has been halted and may go into reverse in the next period, when the contradictions between nation states reappear. It is unlikely that the EU will disintegrate. The European capitalists must somehow keep together in the face of growing competition from the USA and China. But all the dreams of creating a European super-state capable of challenging the USA are in ruins.
Growth has been feeble in most of the euro zone's economies. A GDP growth of 0.6% in the first quarter of 2007 was greeted as a tremendous achievement. Now even this result is beyond their capabilities. The falling dollar is pushing up the euro to record levels and hurting European exports.
The Chinese currency, linked to the dollar, is also falling against the euro. This is provoking howls of pain from Brussels and threats of retaliation against both China and the USA. This is an early warning of the protectionist tendencies that will inevitably gather momentum in the next period either with a slowdown or a recession.
In any case, the economic growth of the last period solved nothing and merely incited the indignation of the workers who increasingly understand that they are not being rewarded commensurately to the efforts demanded from them by the rapacious bosses. The stage is set for an increase of the class struggle in one country after another. In some ways a continuation of the present feeble boom would be the best scenario. A slump is not necessarily a recipe for class struggle and economic growth in modern conditions is certainly not a recipe for class peace, as we see in the mass strikes in France.
In France the victory of Sarkozy was immediately followed by an explosion of strikes by one section of the workers after another. Unemployment has been oscillating around ten percent, but the level for young people under 25 is about 20 percent and for young people of North African origin the figure is 40-50 percent. This was the main reason for the uprising in the banlieus two years ago. Recently there have been further indications of unrest among the unemployed youth, mainly of North African extraction.
There have been big movements of the students against Sarkozy's counter-reforms in education. This shows the accumulation of discontent that has accumulated beneath the surface for decades. This is what led to May 1968 and the same thing can happen again. In Germany, the biggest country in Europe, that previously was its economic locomotive, unemployment was high for the whole of the last period. There have been big strikes on the railways and other sectors, and ferment in politics, with the left (Linke) party rising to 20% in the opinion polls.
In Italy there was the demonstration of half a million in Rome against changes in the pensions law and in little Denmark the even bigger (proportionately) demonstration of 100,000 against cuts. These are proof that the workers will not easily accept the destruction of their past conquests. Italy is now the sick man of Europe. In the past the Italian bourgeoisie would get out of a crisis by devaluing the Lira and increasing the budget deficit. Now both these safety valves are closed. Italy's entry into the euro forbids large budget deficits and excludes devaluations. The Italian capitalists therefore have no other alternative than a direct confrontation with the working class. They must take back all the concessions of the last 50 years. This is a finished recipe for a period of stormy class struggle.
In Greece only three months after the re-election of the right wing New Democracy government the great majority of the Greek people participated in a big movement against the bosses' attacks on the social security system. The 24-hour general strike on December 12, 2007 was called by GSEE (blue and white collar workers) and ADEDY (public sector office workers) the two largest unions, which represent about 2.5 million Greek workers. The mobilization also involved the lawyers, the journalists, the shopkeepers, the owners of small companies and the engineers. All the main means of transport (metro, buses, ships, airports) were completely paralyzed for the whole day, except for the metro which was allowed to operate for a few hours to transport the demonstrators to the strike rallies.
In all the major industries of the country, in the big state-owned companies, in all the main workplaces, participation in the general strike was from 80-100%. In many workplaces (such as shops, service enterprises, offices) where the number of workers is small and where there is no active union, the official participation, as could be expected, was not so big. However, many of the workers in these small workplaces refused to go to the work using the excuse that there were no means of transport or they had "health problems". In reality all of them took part in the strike.
There were 64 demonstrations in different parts of the country. Of course, the biggest rallies took place in Athens. The biggest was that organized by the GSEE and ADEDY with the participation of 50-60,000 workers. The other rally, called by PAME, the KKE (Greek Communist Party) trade union front, saw the participation of 20-25,000 people. In all these demonstrations there was a very militant mood.
So, just months after its re-election, the Karamanlis government is in a very difficult position. Already before the general strike, opinion polls revealed that 70% of the Greek population disagrees with the government's policy on social security, while 58% also disagrees with the economic policy of both the PASOK leadership and the ND government and even 25% of the ND voters (who voted for the ND only three months ago) disagree totally with the economic policy of the ND government.
The original plan of the government, just after it was re-elected, was to attack the working class immediately. But the government has a very slim majority in parliament of only two MPS and may not manage to stay in power. Here again we see the weakness of the bourgeoisie and the difficulties they have in carrying out a policy of cuts.
In Spain there is an increasingly sharp polarization to the right and left, despite a period of fast economic growth. The right wing (PP) and the Church is using language not heard since the 1930s, on the eve of the civil war. Of course, that is not the immediate perspective for Spain or any other European country. But in the next period that will change. In the end the bourgeoisie will come to the conclusion that there are too many strikes, too many demonstrations, too much "anarchy" and that Order must be restored.
Reformist governments always prepare the way for even more right wing governments. At a certain point there can be a movement in the direction of Bonapartism in Europe that in turn will lead to a further polarization and intensification of the class struggle. Bourgeois democracy is not something fixed for all time. What we have seen in Latin America can be replicated in Europe, not only in the rise of revolutionary but also of counterrevolutionary tendencies.
However, that is the music of the future. Unlike the 1930s, the contradictions in society cannot be resolved quickly by a movement towards revolution or counterrevolution. The class balance of forces is enormously favourable to the working class and the mass basis of reaction that existed in the 1930s in the peasantry and petty bourgeoisie has been whittled away. The fascist groups in most countries are small and, although increasingly vocal and violent, cannot play the role they did then. This is shown by the students, who are overwhelmingly left wing in outlook, whereas before 1945 they were inclined towards fascism.
The ruling class therefore cannot move towards reaction in the immediate future. But the working class cannot move to the taking of power because its traditional mass organizations have become transformed into powerful obstacles in the path of socialist revolution. The present uneasy equilibrium between the classes can continue for a period of years with ups and downs. But the crisis of capitalism will make itself felt and is already making itself felt. The masses will learn from experience and at a certain stage will move to take power as they did in the 1970s.
The Middle East and Asia
In Iraq, despite the presence of a large number of troops armed with the most modern weapons of destruction, the Americans have lost the war. This has produced a crisis of the regime. The ruling class has lost confidence in Bush. As with Nixon, it was easy to put him in office, but it is much harder to get him out. The Iraq Study Group headed by James Baker, a trusted representative of ruling class, gave quite sound advice from the perspective of the US bourgeoisie. They said: "We've lost - let's get out as quickly as possible; do a deal with Syria and Iran, let them sort out the mess."
Instead George Bush sent in more troops and threatened Iran. His slogan is: "One last push and we will win". This is like the generals in World War I, who were always ordering their soldiers over the top for one last time. Now the "surge" is in place and an extra 21,000 soldiers are now there, bringing their tally in Baghdad up to 31,000-plus and nationwide to 160,000, the highest troop level since late 2005.
Having secured Baghdad, the Americans hoped to tackle the so-called Sunni Belt just outside Baghdad, in particular the nearby mainly Sunni towns to the south - Mahmudiya, Latifiya and Yusufiya. But this has resolved nothing. Pushed out of Baghdad, the guerillas just moved to other areas. Some 2.2m Iraqis out of a population of 27m are now reckoned to have fled Iraq, while the UN estimates that another 2m have been internally displaced.
Sooner or later the Americans will have to leave Iraq. They are attempting to put together a state that can hold the line when they leave. But the state in the last analysis is armed bodies of men. The Iraqi police consists of around 188,000 men trained by the Americans, but by the middle of 2007 no less than 32,000 had been lost - through death (8,000-10,000), injury (similar numbers), desertion (5,000-plus) and other reasons. The 137,000-strong army is said to be better and less obviously sectarian but it useless against the insurgents.
Things are no better on the political front. The Americans demand that the Iraqis build a broad based national government, state, police, etc. But the government of national unity is no such thing. It is a group of factions, each grabbing a share of the spoils. There is a bloody sectarian civil war in Iraq. The government and the Americans can't solve the problem. US imperialism is responsible for this nightmare. They stoked the flames of sectarian conflict when they based themselves on the Kurds and Shias against Saddam Hussein, who had based himself on the Sunnis. Now the situation is out of control.
General Petraeus candidly admitted that the surge would be in vain unless the breathing space his troops are trying to create is used by the Shia-led government to embrace a wider range of Sunnis. General Petraeus's masters in Washington know that if the puppet Maliki cannot do any better, America's surge - and the increased loss of American life that it is already entailing - is doomed to fail.
They tried to derive some comfort from the fact that until recently Kurdistan was relatively quiet. "The North is OK," they used to say. But the worst bloodshed and violence will take place in the North. Kurdistan is ethnically mixed. The National Question cannot be resolved under capitalism, either in Iraq or anywhere else. Now there is conflict between Sunnis, Shias, Kurds, Turkmens and other groups.
Turkey is looking threateningly at Iraq. Ankara will never accept an independent Kurdistan on its borders. The Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) has recommenced its guerrilla war inside Turkey and has bases inside Kurdish Iraq. The parliament in Ankara has passed a resolution that would allow them to intervene militarily in Iraq. The Turkish army will move to crush them. It is already massing its forces on the border, just looking for an excuse to invade. They have already staged incursions. If Iraq begins to break up on national-sectarian lines, the Turks will move to occupy the area around Mosul and Kirkuk, which they have always coveted for its oil wealth. This will bring new conflicts and instability.
Crisis in the USA
Imperialists do not wage war for amusement, but for plunder, markets and spheres of influence. But they are not getting money out of Iraq - it is costing them a colossal amount - at least two billion dollars a week and thousands of dead and wounded. Iraq has the world's third-largest reserves but they are of little use as long as the crude remains mostly beneath the ground. The oil infrastructure is in a critical condition after 17 years of war and sanctions. Output remains well below the (depressed) pre-war peak of 2.5m barrels a day.
The military are pessimistic about the prospects and increasingly open about it. General Petraeus has warned that "counter-insurgency operations can last nine to ten years." But they do not have nine to ten years. Public opinion in the USA is now overwhelmingly against the war. Even many Republicans have had enough.
Whatever the Americans do now will be wrong. If they remain it will mean more casualties and solve nothing. Largely as a result of Iraq, Bush's popularity has collapsed. The list of American dead and wounded continues to grow and a disproportionate number of victims in Iraq are from poor Latino or black families.
This is at bottom a class question. If the occupation continues it could provoke movements in the USA similar to the mass movement against the war in Vietnam 40 years ago. It can even provoke a crisis of the regime with revolutionary implications. The combination of economic recession, with the resulting fall in living standards, unemployment and the repossessions of people's homes with war is an explosive cocktail.
But if they leave it will be even worse. They will leave behind a chaotic situation that could even lead to the break up of Iraq into its constituent parts. This will lay the basis for further instability, regional wars and terrorism - that is, precisely the opposite of what was intended.
In the autumn of 2007, while Bush was still beating the drum for war against Iran, startling revelations appeared in the press relating to Iran, the President's favourite "rogue state". Unknown sources revealed that US Intelligence had established some time ago that Iran had no immediate possibility of acquiring a nuclear military potential. This was the exact opposite of what Bush has been saying in recent months. He has, in fact, been saying that it was necessary to take immediate action against Iran because at any moment it would have had acquired nuclear weapons.
How did Bush react to this? Did he correct the misleading propaganda about Teheran's imaginary nuclear arsenal? Did he immediately announce the abandonment of any plans for a military strike against Iran? No, he did not. He repeated all the same old nonsense and redoubled his threats against Iran. And the Israeli government joined in, asserting that its own Intelligence contradicted the reports from Washington. Evidently, the hawks in Israel are enthusiastic about the prospect of giving Iran a bloody nose and do not want their fun to be spoilt by anybody.
Who was behind these revelations? Whoever it was, it was somebody in a high position with privileged access to highly sensitive intelligence information. It seems very probable that a section of the establishment has decided to prevent a new military adventure in the Middle East by releasing information that exposes all the Administration's propaganda on this issue to be as accurate as the old lies about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction."
This incident exposes the existence of a growing split inside the US ruling class. There is a growing realization that the foreign policy of the Bush administration is having negative consequences for US imperialism and one section of the ruling class would like to put the brakes on or even remove him. Implicit in all this is a crisis of the regime itself.
It seems most probable that the next elections will be won by the Democrats. But what can they do? They will be left with an inheritance of war, terrorism and economic crisis. It will not take long to discredit them, preparing the ground for a serious radicalization of politics in the USA.
The Iraq war has already had consequences that were unforeseen by the ruling clique in Washington when they launched their Iraq adventure. George W. Bush and Condoleezza Rice sincerely desire peace in the Middle East - peace under American control. The problem is that the two goals are mutually exclusively: you can have peace or you can have US domination, but you cannot have both.
US imperialism seeks to strengthen its stranglehold on the region as a key part of its general policy for world domination. The criminal invasion of Iraq was intended, among other things, to establish a firm and reliable American beachhead in the Middle East. It has not achieved this goal but has only succeeded in provoking a wave of instability throughout the region.
By removing the Iraqi army - the only force that could act as a counterweight to Iran, Washington altered the strategic balance of forces in the whole region. This has benefited Iran, which has extended its influence in the Shia population of Iraq and throughout the region. This directly threatens the interests of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, where reactionary pro-US monarchies are sitting on huge reserves of oil.
Like an elephant in a china shop, US imperialism has rampaged through the region, utterly destroying what elements of stability that existed there before. Surrounded by bits of broken crockery and fearing that other valuable plates may be broken, President George Bush called the Annapolis conference in a desperate attempt to stick the broken pieces back together again.
The Saudi monarchy, one of the main allies of US imperialism in the area, is hanging by a thread. It could be overthrown at any time and whatever regime replaces it would not be a friend of Washington. Therefore the House of Saud has been pleading with Washington to help it on two fronts: by stepping up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Teheran and by brokering some kind of peace agreement that would, they hope, solve the Palestinian question and relieve some of the pressure on Saudi Arabia.
Washington would be only too pleased to oblige but there are a number of problems of a most intractable nature. The main problem is Israel, which is now the only reliable ally that Washington has in the whole region. US imperialism does not have much leverage with the Israeli ruling class in the present situation. The USA proposes, but Israel disposes.
Syria and Lebanon
The Americans thought they were clever when they engineered the overthrow of the pro-Syrian regime in Lebanon. But all they succeeded in doing was to plunge the country into chaos and war, and creating conditions for a revival of civil conflict. Now Lebanon is deadlocked over the election of its president. Belatedly, some people in Washington have realized that Syria's role is crucial. It is possible that the decision to invite Damascus to send a representative to the peace talks at Annapolis was recognition of this fact.
Syria's decision to send its deputy foreign minister - less than a full negotiator, but more than just a token presence - in return for a merely token discussion at Annapolis about Syrian-Israeli peace may indicate that Syria wishes to reach a compromise with Washington. Whether this is possible is a debatable question.
The Americans need Syria to prevent Lebanon from exploding into open civil war. But George Bush is too stupid and narrow minded to comprehend the realities of world diplomacy. He offered Syria no concessions to secure its support, but instead gave Damascus a rap on the knuckles in his speech. He made a pointed and unnecessary reference to Lebanon's need for an election "free from outside interference and intimidation". That is a joke considering the blatant interference of the USA in the whole region. But the Syrians did not see the funny side of it.
The Palestinian question
The Palestinian question lies at the heart of the turbulent situation in the Middle East: a key area for US foreign policy both for economic and strategic reasons. For decades this has been like a festering sore that is poisoning relations between states and creating the risk of new conflicts, terrorism, instability and wars.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US imperialists wished to increase their influence with the Arab countries and were prepared, to some extent, to put pressure on Israel. They therefore put pressure on Israel to make concessions. This led to the Camp David talks and the Madrid and Oslo agreements that established a truncated Palestinian territory. This was a pathetic caricature that in no way satisfied the national aspirations of the Palestinians. It satisfied nobody.
The result was further violence, terrorism, conflict and bitterness, with an open split in the ranks of the Palestinians, with Hamas seizing control in Gaza, growing chaos and instability and the elements of civil war. The crisis in Gaza is a civil war between Hamas and the PLO under Abbas.
Israel's withdrawal from Gaza was a tactical move intended to strengthen its stranglehold on the West Bank. We see the cynicism of the imperialists (not only the Americans but also the EU) when they immediately suspended funds for the Hamas government, which, say what you will, was democratically elected. As soon as the clash between Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas occurred, the imperialists restored funds to the West Bank and the stooge Abbas. They want to use one side to split the Palestinians and thus ensure that the Palestinian struggle for a genuine homeland is aborted.
The Israeli ruling class looks on with quiet satisfaction as Palestinians fight each other, and occasionally sends in the tanks or tightens the economic screws just to show who is boss. The situation is a nightmare for the Palestinian masses, who see no way out. The tactics of Hamas solve nothing but only reinforce the position of the Israeli imperialists, providing them with the excuse for further acts of aggression and repression without even causing a dent in their armour.
The slogan of the Israeli ruling class is: what we have we hold. The Zionists have no intention of giving any important concessions. Hamas boasted that they had expelled the Israeli army from Gaza. That is a joke. The Israelis withdrew from Gaza as a tactical move to silence international criticism and create the impression that they were giving up something important, when in reality they have no interest in Gaza. This was intended to strengthen their stranglehold on the West Bank, which is the decisive question.
The Israelis have relentlessly continued building the monstrous wall that slices through Palestinian territory on the West Bank, robbing large chunks of land under the pretext of "defence". The settlers have become increasingly bold and insolent. After the incidents in Gaza no Israeli government will want to confront the settlers in the West Bank.
Then there is the little matter of Jerusalem, which both Jews and Arabs claim as their natural God-given capital. As for the right of return of Palestinians expelled from their homes since 1948, there is no question of Israel accepting them back, since that would completely upset the demographic balance of the "Jewish state".
Both Israel and the USA have an interest in arriving at some kind of a deal over the Palestinian question. To that extent they can talk and talk again. But whatever deal they arrive at will be against the interests of the Palestinians.
They have been cultivating the Palestinian "leader" Mahmoud Abbas as a compliant stooge to put his stamp on whatever they agree among themselves. But this is not so easy! Abbas, like most people, would like to live to a ripe old age, and is also fearful of losing even more support among the Palestinian masses than he has already lost. He cannot afford to be seen to openly capitulate to the demands of Washington and the Israelis. But in the end he will have no choice in the matter.
The peace summit in Annapolis has solved nothing. After four months of endless talks about talks, Condoleezza Rice, the American secretary of state, failed to obtain what Abbas needed: some kind of a deal on the setting up of a Palestinian state.
The United States is supposed to monitor both sides' compliance with the "road map" peace plan of 2003, under which Israel is meant to freeze settlement-building in the West Bank while the Palestinian Authority (PA) takes action against militants who attack Israel.
This means that the USA has been given the role of arbiter in the conflict by mutual consent of both the contending parties. The United States has agreed to supervise both sides' compliance with the road map; this has been presented as a win for the Palestinians since in the past Israel has been the de facto arbiter of performance. But what this can achieve in the given situation is strictly limited. The referee in a football match is supposed to be neutral and therein lays his authority to decide the issue. But since this referee is clearly inclined to one side, this "arbitration" cannot be worth much.
The first test is clear: what will Olmert do about the 100-plus "unauthorized" outposts established by hard-line settlers? The road map requires him to dismantle around 60. But previous attempts to take even one down have led to violent clashes between the police and settlers, who are regrouping for a showdown after losing their fight to stay in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
It is possible that he might put some pressure on the settlers (these are only pawns in the game of chess and pawns can always be sacrificed in order to win more important objectives). But a wholesale liquidation of Jewish settlements on the West Bank is unthinkable. The settlers are fanatics who are quite capable of provoking serious disturbances both on the West Bank and in Israel proper and no Israeli government would want to risk such destabilization. The problem of the settlers will therefore remain, acting as a permanent provocation to the Palestinians. It is hard to see what role the "arbiter" has to play on this issue.
America has appointed a general, James Jones, as a security envoy to the PA. This does not mean much. And it is clear that Israel will not make his job easy. An Israeli official says that any impression that Mr. Olmert plans a total construction freeze, as the road map stipulates, is a "convenient misperception". This little detail is highly significant. It exposes the hollowness of US diplomacy. In fact, the whole thing is just that: a convenient misperception.
Where the "arbiter" will be implacable is on the point of cracking down on the militants. The large amounts of money the Americans are sending to the Palestinian Authority are not free of charge. They expect something in return. They expect Abbas to crush the Palestinian militants in order to prepare the way for a deal that will fall far short of Palestinian aspirations. That is why for many months Washington has been arming the Palestinian Authority and training its security forces. This is a preparation for the civil war they know will come.
The Israeli reading of the road map is that the PA must entirely dismantle terrorist groups before any final-status deal that the two sides reach can go into effect and they will demand complete compliance before any further steps are considered. But this is beyond the real possibilities of Abbas, who fears that a serious conflict with Hamas could lead to the complete collapse of his armed forces. Therefore the Palestinians are insisting that they need only begin the task of "restoring order".
Thus, the present talks have solved nothing, nor could they solve anything. This conflict is too deep and bitter to be solved by talks. And even when the talks resume in December, how can they solve the important questions: the borders of the Palestinian state, the division of Jerusalem, the fate of 4.5m Palestinian refugees abroad, the sharing of water resources, and other burning issues.
Olmert will concede just enough to keep the peace process going, so as not to annoy the Americans. But he will not concede so much that it provokes the right-wing parties to leave his coalition. The latter have made it plain that they are not prepared to make concessions on the key questions. For instance, they have moved a parliamentary bill that would make it much harder for Israel to give up any of Jerusalem to the PA.
For his part, Abbas, who got much less out of Annapolis than he hoped, runs the risk of being accused of capitulation by his opponents. The Palestinian Authority's security forces have been cracking down viciously on anti-Annapolis demonstrations in the West Bank. This is a warning of things to come. Far from bringing a genuine peace agreement for the creation of a Palestinian state, Annapolis will bring only more conflict, bloodshed and civil war between Palestinians, leaving a legacy of bitterness that will last a long time.
The only way out
In many countries the working class, after years of despondency and exhaustion, is taking the road of struggle. We see this in the impressive strike wave in Egypt, but also in Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon and in Israel itself. It is necessary to place on the agenda the fight for working class policies, for proletarian international solidarity and the struggle for socialism as the only lasting solution for the problems of the masses.
It is essential that the revolutionary youth in Palestine understand this. If we accept the argument that Israeli society is just one reactionary mass, then the cause of the Palestinian people would be lost forever. But it is not true! In Israel there are rich and poor, exploiters and exploited, just as in any other country. It is necessary to work to forge links between the revolutionaries in Palestine and the masses in Israel - Jews as well as Arabs. That is the only way to drive a wedge between the reactionary Zionist ruling class and the masses.
We are told that this is impossible. That is not true! On more than one occasion in the past, there have been clear indications that the message from the occupied territories was getting through to the masses in Israel. At the time of the massacre of Palestinians in Lebanon there was a huge demonstration of protest in Israel and in the first Intifada there were clear indications of discontent in Israel, including in the armed forces.
Tactics like suicide bombings and rocket attacks on civilian targets are wrong because they are counterproductive. For every Israeli citizen that is killed they will kill many more Palestinians. This does not do any damage to the Israeli military machine but it is of extraordinary help to the Israeli ruling class and state. By pushing the masses towards the Zionist state, these tactics strengthen the very thing they intended to destroy.
We fight for socialist revolution throughout the Middle East and in Iran, the Gulf and North Africa. We fight against imperialism - the main enemy of all the peoples. But we also fight against landlordism and capitalism - the main agents of imperialism. We are opposed to religious fundamentalism, which attempts to divert the healthy anti-imperialist instincts of the masses into the blind alley of religious fanaticism and reactionary obscurantism. We stand for workers' power and socialism and a new social order that expresses the interests of the masses. We are for the creation of a Socialist Federation of the Middle East, where Jews and Arabs can be guaranteed a homeland in Autonomous Socialist Republics. That is the only real way forward!
No solution to the Palestinian question is possible on the basis of wheeling and dealing with imperialism. The only possible solution is to divide Israel along class lines: to break the stranglehold of reactionary Zionism. But this demands a class position. It is difficult to put forward this position in the given circumstances, but events will provide the Marxists with openings as the masses come to realize the futility of the old methods. In the meanwhile it is necessary to patiently explain our ideas to the most advanced elements. In future our ideas will find a mass echo.
The Iranian revolution
There is a growing revolutionary potential in Iran. Ahmedinejad is playing at anti-Americanism as means of diverting the attention of the masses. However, after the recent revelations about Iran's nuclear programme, it would appear that the prospects of an air strike against Iran have receded - at least for the present.
This does not suit Ahmadinejad at all. His support is rapidly eroding inside Iran, and his only hope was to keep beating the drum about the danger of US aggression in order to divert the masses' attention away from their most pressing problems and thus save his regime. He has made a public statement to the effect that the new revelations expose Bush as a liar (which they do) and completely justify the policies of his regime (which they do not).
Of course, Ahmadinejad is not capable of waging a serious fight against imperialism but he had an interest in maintaining the tension in order to deflect the attention of the masses from their real problems. Now it is unlikely that Bush will be able to act. This will make it easier for the development of a widespread movement of opposition by the Iranian workers and students, which has already begun and is destined to transform the whole political life of the region in the coming period.
The mullahs are clinging to power but their support is collapsing. The regime is experiencing a slow process of internal decomposition. After decades in power they are seen as corrupt and repressive. The youth is in open revolt. Despite the powerful apparatus of state repression, Ahmadinejad has been booed and heckled by the students. This is a very important symptom. It is normal for the revolution to begin with a movement of the students. That was the case in Russia in the period 1900-03. The student protests prepared the way for the mass movement of the workers in the 1905 Revolution. It was also the case in Spain in 1930-31. In May 1930, Trotsky wrote:
"When the bourgeoisie consciously and stubbornly refuses to take upon itself the solution of the tasks flowing from the crisis in bourgeois society; when the proletariat appears to be still unprepared to undertake the solution of these tasks itself, then the proscenium is often occupied by the students ... The revolutionary or semi-revolutionary activities of the students mean that bourgeois society is passing through a deep crisis ...
"The Spanish workers displayed an entirely correct revolutionary instinct when they lent their support to the manifestations of the students. It is understood that they must do it under their own banner and under the leadership of their own proletarian organization. This must be guaranteed by Spanish Communism, and for that it needs a correct policy." (Leon Trotsky, Problems of the Spanish Revolution)
These words are fully applicable to Iran today. The students are protesting and demonstrating despite the heavy presence of the Iranian regime's security forces. On Students' Day (Dec. 4th) around 500 students and left-wing activists took part in an illegal gathering at Tehran University. The crowd chanted slogans denouncing the recent arrests and the climate of intimidation and the meeting ended with the singing of the Internationale. This shows that the radical and revolutionary traditions of the Iranian students' movement going back to December 1953 are alive and in good health. But from a symptomatic point of view it is still more important.
Lenin explained that there were four conditions for revolution. The first is that the regime should be split and in crisis. The Iranian regime is deeply split and in a complete impasse. It has reached that point which, as de Tocqueville pointed out, was the most dangerous moment for an autocracy is when it begins to reform. At this point a split opens up between conservatives and reformers. The latter say: "we must reform or there will be a revolution." The former say: "If we reform there will be a revolution." And both are correct. Iran reached that point some time ago.
The second condition is that the middle layers of society should be in a state of ferment and vacillating between revolution and the status quo. That ferment is reflected in the movement in the universities but it is not restricted to that. Sections of the middle class such as the small traders (bazaris) who in the past supported the mullahs are now also disaffected. The mass base of reaction is being whittled away, while the social reserves of revolution are growing all the time.
The next and most important element in the equation is the working class. The mighty Iranian proletariat is the most decisive force in the revolution. The Iranian workers are now on the move. There has been a major strike wave, involving many sections of the working class: bus workers, shipyards, textiles railways, the Haft-Tapeh sugar works, oil and other sections. These strikes may begin with economic demands, but given the nature of the regime they will inevitably take on an increasingly political and revolutionary character.
In other words, all the conditions mentioned by Lenin are either present or are maturing. The last condition alone is missing: the revolutionary party and leadership. Our Iranian comrades have done excellent work, which is as yet in its early stages, but which can take off rapidly as the revolution develops. Iran is at a stage comparable to the situation on the eve of January 1905. Let us remember that the Russian Marxists were also extremely weak at that time, but grew with tremendous speed once the working class began to move.
Ours is the only tendency that detected a revolutionary potential in Iran. The Iranian working class has been inoculated against Islamic fundamentalism. It is young and fresh and free from the prejudices and distortions of reformism and Stalinism. It can move very quickly in the direction of the most advanced revolutionary ideas. The Iranian Revolution will cut across the stagnant and unbreathable atmosphere of reaction that hangs over the region. It will cast off the yoke of religious fundamentalism and resolutely take the road of socialism and workers' power.
At this moment in time, the Iranian revolution is the key to the Middle East. It will cut through the fog of religious fundamentalism and reaction. It will give hope and a new perspective to the workers and youth of the Arab world who are beginning to reawake to the class struggle. It will cause shock waves that will spread to Afghanistan, Pakistan and the whole of Central Asia and its repercussions will be felt far afield.
As in Iraq so in Afghanistan the imperialists have failed in their fundamental objectives. The country is in a complete mess and the shockwaves emanating from this have destabilized Pakistan. The war drags on and western casualties are mounting. The US plan to rely on air power in Afghanistan in order to avoid American casualties has failed. Instead the bombing has caused heavy civilian casualties. This is the Pentagon's version of the gentle art of winning friends and influencing people.
British-led troops are fighting on the ground in Helmand province. But they taking a lot of casualties in a war they cannot win. The Taliban avoid head-on battles, are now resorting to more suicide attacks and roadside blasts. These "asymmetrical" (i.e. guerrilla) tactics are very effective and are used even in Kabul. A suicide-bombing attack that almost killed the US vice president Dick Cheney.
British general, David Richards, is said to have warned colleagues in London that NATO was making "the best of a bad job" because it was short of troops. But it is far easier to state the problem than solve it. Where will NATO get more soldiers? Instead, more of America's allies will start to drop out. The will to continue fighting will evaporate as increasing casualties affect domestic politics. This has already caused a political crisis in Italy. It will not be the last.
Some countries, such as Britain, Denmark and Poland are increasing their forces. But others are not keen to lose more lives. The Germans are present but their troops are confined to the north (where there is little or no fighting) and are forbidden to leave barracks at night!). The Afghan mission is unpopular in Germany, and almost brought down the Italian government in February 2007. The Dutch are shaky and Sarkozy has said he would also like to leave ISAF though officials say no such move is imminent.
The acute shortage of troops on the ground means that the imperialists will have to compensate with heavy firepower. This means even more civilian casualties, which will further alienate the Afghan population. The Taliban, by contrast, have plenty of money, men and arms, financed by the Afghan poppy crop.
The opium economy and the insurgency are mutually reinforcing; drugs finance the Taliban, while the fighting encourages poppy cultivation, especially in Helmand, which is set to harvest another record crop this year, producing more opium (and from it heroin and other illegal drugs) than the rest of Afghanistan put together.
The drugs business is highly profitable, worth some $320 billion annually. The opium trade is the equivalent about a third of Afghanistan's total economy. The Afghan opium trade is worth around $60 billion at street prices in consuming countries - and is out of control. Afghanistan last year produced the equivalent of 6,100 tonnes of opium, about 92% of the world total. At least the Taliban exercised some control, now there is none. These days Taliban commanders and drug smugglers are one and the same.
Some of the biggest drug barons are reputedly members of the national and provincial governments, even figures close to Hamid Karzai. The Economist (28/6/07): "The whole chain of government that is supposed to impose the rule of law, from the ministry of interior to ordinary policemen, has been subverted. Poorly paid policemen are bribed to facilitate the trade. Some pay their superiors to get particularly ‘lucrative' jobs like border control."
Pakistan - the key
Pakistan is a key element in US foreign policy in Central Asia. But it is in deep trouble, beset by a fatal combination of economic collapse, Islamist insurgency, terrorism, splits in the state and political chaos. The exact outcome is impossible to predict. But one thing is clear: instability will grow, and together with it a growing social and political polarization that will give a powerful impulse to both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary tendencies.
Events in Pakistan are moving fast. General Musharraf was compelled to quit as army chief and call an election. This sets the stage for a big shift in Pakistan. The splits and conflicts at the top are providing a breach through which the accumulated discontent of the masses is thrusting itself forward. Events will then take on a logic of their own.
The dictatorship was brought to its knees by mass demonstrations and protests and by the intolerable contradictions that afflict Pakistan at all levels. As we predicted, the return of Benazir Bhutto brought millions of workers and peasants onto the streets. This is not thanks to, but in spite of, the policies and conduct of Benazir, who is an ally of US imperialism and until recently was attempting to reach a compromise with Musharraf.
The Musharraf dictatorship was undermined as a result of its own contradictions and inner rottenness. This internal decay was shown by the lawyers' crisis. Then there was the Red Mosque crisis, etc. As a result the imperialists decided to ditch Musharraf and prepare for Bhutto's return to Pakistan. The return of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, and the formal exit from the army of General Pervez Musharraf spelled the beginning of the end for the dictatorship. It has simply ran out of steam and is collapsing under its own weight.
Pakistan has had a stormy history since it attained formal independence, together with India, in 1947. Since then the weak Pakistan bourgeoisie has shown itself completely unable to take this huge country forward. It remains plunged in dire poverty and feudal backwardness. The economy is in a mess and the country is going backwards not forwards.
The weakness of Pakistan capitalism has been manifested in extreme political instability. Weak "democratic" regimes have been succeeded at regular intervals by military dictatorships of one kind or another. The last dictator, Zia al Huq was murdered (probably by the CIA). Musharraf fears the same fate, and is desperately clinging to power. But power is already slipping through his fingers.
The proclamation of emergency was a desperate gambler's throw that plunged the country into political chaos, as we predicted. It did not suit the interests of US imperialism, for which Pakistan now has a key strategic importance because of the war in neighbouring Afghanistan. Washington exerted pressure on Musharraf to crack down on the pro-Taliban forces that have been crossing the frontier to fight the coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.
This pressure from all sides undermined Musharraf. His army has suffered severe losses in the Tribal Areas where they have tried unsuccessfully to uproot the militants. There is still a powerful wing of the army and above all the Intelligence Services (ISI) that supports the Taliban and al Qaeda and is protecting them.
Musharraf is powerless to do anything about this. The army was his only basis of support, and that proved to be very shaky. Therefore, the strategists of US imperialism came to the conclusion that Musharraf was no longer any use to them and was disposable. They were looking to Benazir Bhutto to take over instead.
Perspectives for the Pakistan People's Party
For the lawyers and professional politicians "democracy" is a matter of getting into lucrative parliamentary and ministerial positions. Their main objection to Musharraf is not one of principle but merely that the army was getting too big a share of the state pie and not leaving enough for them. For the "political class" the whole question boils down to a struggle to see who gets their snout into the pig's trough.
The American bourgeois have other interests. They have their own (much bigger) pig's trough at home. The defence of what they call "American interests" is ultimately connected with this. But in order to protect "American interests" (that is, the interests of the big US banks and multinationals) they must attend to foreign policy.
US foreign policy has two departments: the first is the US Army, Navy and Air Force, the second is diplomacy. The first uses naked force to crush enemies, the second uses a combination of threats, bribery and corruption to obtain the support of "friendly governments", since friendship is also a commodity and can be purchased like any other commodity.
Unfortunately, also like any other commodity, friends can cease to be useful and their market value declines accordingly. The market value of General Musharraf's friendship has been very low for quite some time now. Therefore Washington is looking for new friends in Islamabad.
Benazir lost no opportunity to pose as a pro-western "moderate". But behind Benazir and the PPP stand the masses who yearn for a change. They are loyal to the original socialist aspirations of the PPP and are demanding roti, kapra aur makan (bread, clothing and shelter), which Pakistan capitalism is not able to give them. The attitude of the masses was shown when Benazir returned to Pakistan: at least two million people came onto the streets: the overwhelming majority were workers, peasants and poor people.
Washington was at first relieved when Nawaz Sharif was deported back to Saudi Arabia in September 2007, but, having witnessed the mass mobilizations that were provoked by Benazir's return, is now pleased to see him back. The Saudi royal family demanded that the leader of the Moslem League be allowed back. The Saudis want to prevent a PPP victory at all costs, and wanted Musharraf to lean on the Muslim League to keep Benazir out of office. The imperialists wanted to balance between Sharif and Bhutto. They wanted to push them into a coalition as a safeguard against the masses.
The assassination of Benazir Bhutto has transformed the entire situation. The masses have been stirred into action. If the elections are held, they will vote massively for the PPP. In the short term, the "centre" will gain in the form of a PPP government, possibly in coalition with the Muslim League. But this will be shown to be impotent and unable to solve the fundamental problems of society. The "centre" will be exposed as a gigantic zero.
Crisis of the regime
The imperialists and the Pakistan ruling class were not afraid of Benazir Bhutto but they are terrified of the masses that stand behind the PPP. They want a fundamental change in society and will not be satisfied with empty speeches and promises.
Benazir wanted to form a coalition with Sharif because she needed an excuse for not carrying out policies in the interests of the workers and peasants. But the workers and poor peasants will not accept any excuses. They will press forward with their most urgent demands. This will open up a whole new situation for the class struggle in Pakistan.
All the petty intrigues and manoeuvres are taking place at the top. The journalists and commentators are fascinated by this "political drama", which resembles the noisy squabbling among the midgets at a circus. All these endless combinations and deals are only the froth on the waves of the ocean that are the visible expression of the powerful currents underneath. What is decisive, however, is not the former but the latter.
The crisis in Pakistan is not a superficial political crisis but a crisis of the regime itself. Weak Pakistan capitalism, rotten and corrupt to the marrow, has led a vast country of 160 million people into a horrific impasse. For more than half a century the degenerate Pakistan bourgeoisie has shown itself incapable of carrying the Nation forward. It now finds itself in a complete impasse, which threatens to drag it down into a horrific abyss.
Only the masses, led by the working class, can show a way out of this nightmare. The real constituency of the PPP is the masses: the millions of workers and peasants, of revolutionary youth and unemployed who came onto the streets, after the assassination of the PPP leader. They were not cheering an individual but an ideal: the ideal of a genuinely democratic and just Pakistan: a Pakistan without rich and poor, without oppressors and oppressed: a socialist Pakistan.
In the next period the masses will have to back to the school of the PPP where they will learn some harsh lessons. But the masses in general always learn from experience. How else are they to learn? The next period will be a period of storm and stress. A PPP government will be immediately subject to enormous pressures from all sides: the masses will demand measures in their interests, and the imperialists, landlords and capitalists will demand measures in the interests of the rich and powerful. It will be ground between two millstones.
Only our tendency understood and predicted this development. As usual, the ultra left sects were utterly incapable of understanding the way the masses think and move. As always the Marxists participate in the real, living movement of the masses, fighting for the same concrete goals against the same class enemies. We do not lecture the workers and peasants from the sidelines like a school teacher lecturing little children. We explain patiently, stage by stage and help the workers to draw their own conclusions.
In the end, the workers and peasants will learn how to distinguish between those leaders who stand for the interests of the working people and those who do not. The Marxists in the PPP will oppose all attempts to form coalitions or deals with the Moslem league. We demand the implementation of the original programme of the PPP, a socialist programme based on the expropriation of the landlords and capitalists. We will develop the necessary transitional demands to relate every concrete struggle for advance to the goal of the socialist transformation of society.
As in Iran, the classical conditions for revolution are developing in Pakistan. Every revolution begins at the top, with splits in the old regime. That first condition already exists in Pakistan. The middle class is completely alienated from the ruling clique. This is partly reflected in the protests of the lawyers, although the movement contains contradictory elements. In recent years there has been an upsurge of the class struggle in Pakistan, with major strikes like that of the telecommunications workers and Pakistan Steel. In the last few days there was a national strike of PIA (Pakistan Airways). These strikes have hardly been mentioned by the media outside Pakistan but they are of great symptomatic importance. They show the reawakening of the Pakistan proletariat.
The final and most important condition is the existence of a revolutionary organization and leadership. Does this exist in Pakistan? Yes, it does! The Pakistan Marxists represented by The Struggle have grown in strength and influence in recent years. They have conquered one position after another and have succeeded in uniting the overwhelming majority of the militant youth and working class activists around them. They have a strong and growing presence in every region, every nationality and every important city.
In the struggles of the workers, they have played an outstanding role. Together with the PTUDC (Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign) - the most important militant trade union organization in Pakistan, they have scored significant victories like the defeat of the attempt to privatize Pakistan Steel. In Kashmir they have won over the majority of the students to Marxism and in Karachi and Pakhtunkhua (the North West Frontier) they have won many adherents from the former Communist Party.
We were the only ones on the Left to understand the role of the PPP and the only ones to predict how the masses would respond. The Pakistan comrades intervened on these demonstrations, distributing revolutionary literature and chanting revolutionary slogans. They were enthusiastically received by the workers and peasants who want the same things that we want.
Important developments are on the order of the day and our comrades are in a good position to take advantage of them. The battle lines are being drawn ever more clearly: either black reaction or the triumph of the socialist revolution in Pakistan, in India and in the whole subcontinent. Pakistan may well have the honour of being the first country to strike a blow for socialism and light the flame of revolution that will set both Central Asia and the Subcontinent ablaze.
In world revolution as a whole, Latin America remains at the front line. This is the final answer to all the reformists, cowards and apostates who accepted the arguments of the bourgeoisie that revolution and socialism were off the agenda. US imperialism is increasingly worried about what is happening south of the Rio Grande. The reason for this growing alarm is that the revolutionary ferment is spreading from one country to another.
Revolutions do not respect frontiers and the revolutionary ferment is spreading to countries like Ecuador, Bolivia, etc. That is why they are trying to isolate Venezuela. US imperialism cannot tolerate the Venezuelan Revolution. But as happened in Cuba, US imperialism could push Chavez beyond the limits of capitalism. If this occurs, its effects will be felt throughout the continent and beyond.
In the 1980s, civil wars in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua propelled the region to the forefront of the cold war. But lately the Middle East has pushed Latin America aside in Washington's foreign-policy priorities. Now that is changed. The concern in Washington was reflected in the visit of George Bush to a region he has neglected throughout much of his presidency. Although his route was chosen with great care and confined to "friendly" countries, the US president was met with protest demonstrations.
Everywhere Washington sees the hand of Chavez and the Bolivarian Revolution. This is typical of the police mentality, which sees revolutions (and even strikes) as the result of malign conspirators and not objective processes. It is true that Chavez and the Venezuelan revolution are acting as a catalyst of revolution throughout the continent. But even the most powerful catalyst can only work if the conditions are given. The objective conditions for socialist revolution are given in practically every country in Latin America.
What is required to guarantee success in the shortest time and with the minimum of sacrifice is a revolutionary Marxist Party and leadership. That is perfectly true. But nature abhors a vacuum. The masses cannot wait until we have built the revolutionary party! In the absence of such a party, Chavez serves as a catalyst. He is giving a voice to the aspirations of the masses to change society. That explains the violent hostility he faces from US imperialism, which is determined to get rid of him one way or another.
But US influence in Latin America is at a low ebb. They could not even get the OAS to intervene against Venezuela. Latin American attitudes to their powerful neighbour to the North have been hardening. In a recent poll for the BBC World Service, 64% of Argentines, 57% of Brazilians, 53% of Mexicans and 51% of Chileans said they had a "mainly negative" view of American influence.
In the past, the Marines would have landed long ago. Today this is impossible, politically and even physically. The US army is tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is unthinkable that it could be involved in another military adventure at this time. So they are obliged to use other methods: diplomacy and intrigue. But even in this terrain Bush is limited by falling popularity.
America backed military dictatorships in the 1970s and 1980s but has changed its tactics after burning its fingers with the likes of Noriega. It now generally prefers weak democratic regimes, although that did not stop it from organizing the 2002 coup in Venezuela. Bush's commitment to democracy is relative and dictated purely by tactical considerations. This is not to say they won't attack. They are already attacking. But they cannot invade openly - they must resort to indirect methods, diplomatic pressure, economic pressure and political intrigues.
In Nicaragua Daniel Ortega won the presidential elections, despite American officials openly campaigning for right-wing candidates. Washington was clearly involved in the massive electoral fraud in Mexico designed to prevent the election of the PRD candidate Lopez Obrador. It tried but failed to prevent the election of Rafael Correa in Ecuador. However, it succeeded in installing its stooge Alan Garcia in Peru and now wants to reward him at the same time as it intrigues against Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador.
US imperialism is trying to place a cordon sanitaire around Venezuela, (and also Bolivia and Ecuador). That was the meaning of Bush's tour of Latin America and the attempt to sign bilateral trade agreements with certain Latin American countries (Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Peru). Washington is hostile to the governments of Evo