As the bombs fall on Afghanistan murdering the first civilians (only acknowledged in the bourgeois press when UN workers were amongst the dead), the war aims of capital become a little clearer.
Ostensibly, this is a war against terrorism. Like the war on drugs, a war on terrorism is obviously unwinnable. For starters there is no agreement on the definition of terrorism. Is it confined to al-Qaida and Egyptian Islamic Jihad? Should it include (as the Telegraph argues) the IRA? What about the UDA? Anyone who causes criminal damage to state property with the aim of seriously altering or destroying the political, economic or social structure, as the proposed new EU anti-terrorism laws would have it? Anti-capitalists (linked to the bombing of the Twin Towers by Berlusconi)? Iraq? Israel? Clearly, like the war on drugs, this is a war to be waged selectively. And, like the war on drugs, the war against terrorism is designed to obscure, not illuminate the war aims of the protagonists. Bin Ladens desire to transform the war into a battle between two opposing religious fundamentalisms finds its echo in Bushs desire for a crusade; Blairs invoking of God; Berlusconis assertion of the superiority of western (i.e. Christian) culture & values. However, whilst revolutionaries need to rediscover the critique of religion, we must look elsewhere for an explanation for the war.
No War But The Class War has characterised this as a war on the working class. Certainly it is workers and peasants in Afghanistan who are being directly murdered either by bombs or starvation. Elsewhere, proletarians opposing the war will bear the brunt of state repression (shootings, arrests, broken limbs, internment). Ultimately the ruling class of each nation wages war on its workers, by tying us to the war machine and outlawing all forms of critique. However this is true of all wars in the age of capital and therefore, whilst this analysis places us head and shoulder above the left with its false categories of imperialism, anti-imperialism, the right of national self-determination and national liberation, it remains only the starting point for our understanding.
Since the long boom came to a halt in the late 1970s and capital faced renewed crisis, the ruling class has sought to impose a new class composition. In the main this has been done through the peaceful methods of mass unemployment, increased productivity and cuts in the social wage. In the Gulf, the Balkans and now the Middle East, capital has chosen the method of mass destruction and the mass murder of (surplus?) proletarians.
Faced with the prospect of global recession, US capital turns to Keynesianism in a desperate attempt to reverse the law of value. As first the airlines and then other industries begin to collapse, the talk in the Treasury and the City is of state intervention (so accepted is this that Easyjet who stand to benefit from the falling sales of the more expensive airlines is running adverts opposing state intervention in the industry). The City continues to warn of falling share prices and the danger of companies overburdened with debt. A second slump is widely predicted in the dot.com sector. Patriotic consumption is called for in both the USA and UK the responsibility for the recession is thus placed at the door of the proletarian consumer.
For us the slump means sackings, wage cuts and cuts in social spending. There is little doubt that industries are using the cover of the war to prevent workers resistance and rush through sackings in preparation for a deeper recession. At British Airways, for example, thousands are being laid off and on worse terms than previous redundancies. As with all recessions, the cost will be paid by the proletariat. The war will speed up the slump. It will also mean further cuts in social spending as the state diverts resources to the war effort. In the Gulf war, for example, hospital beds were held empty in anticipation of British squaddy casualties, leading to the cancellation of long awaited operations. It will be up to the anti-war movement to reveal the costs of the war.
In Afghanistan capital requires a new ruling class. The Taliban, trained and installed by the CIA, SAS and the Pakistani state, has failed to create the conditions for capitalist expansion: The Taliban movement is essentially caught between a tribal society, which they try to ignore, and the need for a state structure which they refuse to establish (Ahmed Rashid, Taliban, Islam, Oil and the New Great Game in Central Asia). The Northern Alliance, currently being promoted to the role of state in waiting, shares the Talibans fundamentalism and enslavement of women and draws its support from different (and minority) tribal groups. As such it is ill fitted to the task. Hence the hesitancy of the allies and the call for a tribal council under the former monarch.
Capitalist restructuring will not be confined to Afghanistan. As Blair, in his speech to Labours conference said: Today conflicts rarely stay within national boundaries. Today a tremor in one financial market is repeated in the markets of the world. Today confidence is global; either its presence or its absence. He then went on to extol the benefits globalisation and to outline his vision of (another) new world order: So I believe this is a fight for freedom. And I want to make it a fight for justice too. Justice not only to punish the guilty. But justice to bring those same values of democracy and freedom to people round the world. And I mean: freedom, not only in the narrow sense of personal liberty but in the broader sense of each individual having the economic and social freedom to develop their potential to the full. That is what community means, founded on the equal worth of all. Meanwhile, the US ruling class makes little secret of its intention to extend the war to Iraq.
Yet, the coalition of nations under US hegemony is fragile. Many states have committed only to the stated limited goal of overthrowing the Taliban and, no doubt casting a worried eye over their populations, their rulers urge restraint. It is noticeable that, despite the much-vaunted coalition and all the diplomatic manoeuvring, only US and British forces are involved so far, and no air strikes have been launched from any Arab airbases.
The workers of Sabzehvar in Iran are in an insurrectionary mood. Earlier this year there was an insurrection in Algeria. In Indonesia and Pakistan militant demonstrations against the war are taking place. Although these are taking the predictable anti-American, pro-cleric line, as the war continues this may well change. Throughout North America and Europe there have significant anti-war demonstrations. In Britain the anti-war movement is already larger than the opposition to the Gulf war a decade ago. The attempt to whip up a patriotic fervour and enlist mass support for the war effort has not succeeded. Most people remain sceptical.
The ruling class is clearly aware of the danger of the present situation and the opportunities which exist for revolutionary ideas and action. As Blair in his keynote speech put it: This is a moment to seize. The Kaleidoscope has been shaken. The pieces are in flux. Soon they will settle again. Before they do, let us re-order this world around us. Clearly the course of history is not yet settled.
The anti-capitalist movement has demonstrated its ability to mobilise large numbers of people on the streets of London, Seattle, Prague, Genoa etc. Significantly, these gatherings have been formally illegal. A great deal of imagination and creativity has been shown in the choice of targets and the type of action, marking a break with sterile leftism. The movement has built up good links with those in the global south and organised large international conferences. On the day of the attack on the Twin Towers, much of the movement was in Docklands for a Fiesta For Life, Against Death (not surprisingly in the aftermath when everything from football matches to village fetes were cancelled as a mark of respect, the arms fair continued). Now we need to move from abstract anti-militarism, to organising against the war.
On the night of the first bombings, NWBTCW showed what a small
number of people acting together and prepared to come out from behind the
states barricades could achieve. Through such actions we will make contact
with those seeking to oppose the war on a class basis. History teaches
us the high price for the failure of the revolutionary class to stop the
first two world wars, not just in the wholesale massacre of proletarians
on the battlefields, but also the fact that class society has continued
for the 80 odd years since. We must do all we can to ensure that
history is not repeated with the Third World War. The only way to
oppose the war is on the basis of revolutionary politics. We must
counterpose our analysis to the pacifists in the anti-war movement, for
the simple reason that there can be no peaceful solution to the capitalist
crisis. War and capitalism are inseparable. To abolish war,
we must abolish capitalism.
West London Anarchists & Radicals
10th October 2001
C/O BM Makhno,
S-11 Anti-War Page
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