Lessons We Draw from ‘Gulf War II’

Arindam Sen

“The profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.” – Karl Marx, The Future Results of British Rule in India (1853)
The American multimillionaires … have converted all, even the richest, countries into their tributaries. They have grabbed hundreds of billions of dollars. And every dollar is sullied with filth: the filth of the secret treaties ... the filth of “profitable” war contracts … And every dollar is stained with blood – from that ocean of blood that has been shed by the ten million killed and twenty million maimed … V.I. Lenin, Letter to American Workers, (1918)
Riding roughshod over the cradle of world civilization for three weeks and more, the Bush-Blair band of bandits are now busy recolonising her and dividing up the spoils. The war on humanity continues by the other means, so does the worldwide resistance; it’s time we sum up the rich experience so as to take the anti-imperialist struggle forward.
War for Oil and Dollar Domination
That the aggression is for oil is now common knowledge. But that is only half-truth. Actually Gulf War II became inevitable when on 6 November 2000 Iraq switched her petrocurrency (and then converted her $10 billion reserve fund at the UN to euros). To add to the panic and anger of the US, it was learnt that Iran – the second largest OPEC producer – also was actively considering a similar course of action (that was the real reason why it was included in the ‘axis of evil’). Since late 2001, the dollar started falling steadily vis-a-vis the euro. This meant handsome extra profits for Iraq. The economic rationale for a collective OPEC switch to the euro was becoming stronger. This would mean that oil-importing countries would have to replace a large part of their dollar reserves with euros, leading to further depreciation (maybe a crash if the switch is made at one stroke rather than gradually) of the dollar, massive inflation, a run on the US banks and a stock market crash, and so on. The prospect was too bleak to tolerate. The only way to arrest the drift and revert the whole process seemed to lie in the “regime change” in Iraq. For George W. Bush – the Texas oilman who has been involved in the industry for more than 25 years and who received $2.8 billion from energy companies as contributions to presidential campaign and for his “oil-marinated” team, it was indeed a life-and-death question. And the final provocation came from the third country in the ‘axis’, North Korea, which started trading in euros in late 2002 and reactivated her pre-1994 nuclear programme. Negligible in terms of economic impact, this was quite powerful as a political irritant. The cowboy and his cabal had to act decisively, and so they did.
In Lenin’s time, wars were fought for natural resources, markets, and territories. Today, when trade and speculation in currencies has emerged as the most lucrative sector in world economy, we have an additional element: war over currency standards.
First Colony of ‘American Century’?
Departing from what they did after Gulf War I, this time, the occupation armies are in Iraq to stay. To rule – through an ex-general “viceroy” and some form of managed democracy. And to loot – through ‘reconstruction’. The UN is absolutely sidelined from the process, so are other states barring the favoured few. The intransigence of a selfish coloniser is evident in more ways than one. As Lawrence F Kaplan and William Kristol argue in the best-selling The War Over Iraq, this invasion is just the beginning of a new era in American foreign policy. A policy of recolonisation, we may add.
But is this simply a matter of the mental make-up of the warmongers? Probably there are more solid reasons – more impelling class interests. For one, the puppet regime-proxy war model is very good for camouflaging the reality, but seems to be subject to the law of diminishing returns. The Shah who was foisted in Iran in place of Mossadeq (who nationalised the oil industry in 1951) could not prevent the anti-American revolution even with the maximum possible support from Washington. Thereafter Saddam was provided with all sorts of WMDs (weapons of mass destruction) to be used for crushing Iran, but he failed and then turned Frankenstein’s monster. In Afghanistan, the US policy ultimately fared no better than that of the Soviet Union under Brezhnev. Both the Taliban, recruited and trained in Pakistan, and the Bin Laden gang from Saudi Arabia proved to be very costly and counter-productive exercises. And following the recent aggression, the puppet Karzai government remains a helpless spectator of anarchy and non-governance.
In view of the whole experience and given the resource-crunch in recent years, the temptation was quite strong to try out a more direct and cost-effective method of domination and exploitation. Of course, the new gameplan involves newer risks. Sizeable sections of the ruling class have therefore expressed disapproval, but that is all part of the game.
Another political compulsion (in addition to the economic ones mentioned in the beginning) behind the desperate annexation seems to stem from a growing realisation that over-reliance on Saudi Arabia for oil and for safeguarding American interests in the Arab world is fraught with dangerous consequences. There is no forgetting the pedigree of Bin Laden and the support he enjoys in that country. Most important, the fate of the pro-US ruling dispensation at Riyadh is getting more and more uncertain in the face of growing mass hatred against Washington and its agents. All things considered, stability of a hundred per cent pro-American regime at least in Iraq (to begin with) has to be guaranteed. And this can be achieved only by throwing Iraq back to the pre-1958 era, when Britain maintained military bases and “advisors” in all the ministries, while the tyrannical landed aristocracy (the likes of Chalabi) served as the principal social prop of imperialism. This is what Washington is up to; to what extent the freedom-loving Iraqis will oblige is of course a different matter.
‘Theories’ that Went Bust
In addition to exposing the true face of Pax Americana, the war has served to strike blows to a number of notions which grew fashionable over the last ten years or so.
It was being suggested, for instance, that in the face of globalisation and all that goes with it, the nation state has become almost irrelevant. And yet once again it was the nation states – USA and UK on the one side and Iraq on the other, the “coalition of the willing” on the one hand and the opposition states on the other – that came to the fore as the real players in world politics, while it was the “supra-national role of the UN” (to borrow a term from Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, authors of Empire) and the sanctity of international law which – after being trampled upon by the world’s strongest state for years together – became totally irrelevant. The Bush-Rumsfeld-Cheney cabal expected a grand popular welcome for the American ‘liberators’ in Iraq and a Shia-Sunni civil war, which would make the task of balkanisation and colonisation easier. They have been frustrated on both counts and this plus the continuing mass resistance testifies to the great power of Iraqi nationalism built in the course of decades-long struggle against British and American imperialists and further consolidated after emerging as an independent state in 1958.
Also there was much talk of a unipolar world, and now the multipolar reality, or at least the trend towards that, is too obvious to be ignored. Then there were lots of pacifist illusions: from bourgeois propaganda about a “peace dividend after cold war” to the profound discovery that “The history of imperialist, inter-imperialist, and anti-imperialist wars is over.” (Empire) In real life, the quick succession of wars and the widely discussed question: “who is the next target?” once again paid put to such nonsense. Once again the awareness is growing everywhere that wars are inevitable under the imperialist world order, and that the only way of getting rid of them is to get rid of imperialism.
Imperialism, not Empire
But is not “imperialism” an obsolete category? Yes, assert the authors of Empire:
“The sovereignty of the nation-state was the cornerstone of the imperialisms that European powers constructed throughout the modern era.” Things have changed: “… distinct colors of imperialist map of the world have merged and blended in the imperial global rainbow.” But what about the USA, widely identified as the world people’s enemy number one? “The United States does not, and indeed no nation state can today, form the center of an imperialist project. Imperialism is over.”
Hardt and Negri speak of a “passage to Empire” as a new, post-imperialist stage nearing the end of history. (Liberation has already published a full-length critical review of this work by B. Sivaraman, February 2003, suffice it to make a few points for our present purpose.)
In terms of theoretical fundamentals, the debate is an extension of the Lenin-Kautsky controversy over imperialism versus ultra-imperialism. Kautsky highlighted the possibility of ultra-imperialism marked by “the joint exploitation of the world by internationally united finance capital in place of the mutual rivalries of national finance capital.” (cited by Lenin in The Collapse of the Second International, May-June, 1915; CW. Vol. XXI, p.223). In favour of this thesis he advanced several arguments, among which Lenin found only one to be factually correct and significant. Quoting this particular argument, Lenin said:
“ ‘The growing international interweaving between the cliques of finance capital’ is the only really general and indubitable tendency, not during the last few years and in two countries, but throughout the whole capitalist world. But why should this trend engender a striving towards disarmament, not armaments, as hitherto? Take any one of the world-famous cannon (and arms) manufacturers, Armstrong, for instance. … Here, the inter-twining of finance capital is most pronounced and is on the increase; German capitalists have ‘holdings’ in British firms; British firms build submarines for Austria, and so on. Interlinked on a world-wide scale, capital is thriving on armaments and wars.” (ibid. pp.226-27)
Now, just compare Armstrong with Dick Cheney’s Halliburton. The main business of this MNC is to drill wells, provide other services to the global oil industry and execute various defence and quasi-defence contracts. Cheney joined the company when his term as defence secretary under George HW Bush was over. Naturally Halliburton enjoyed immense advantages because such contracts largely depend on suitable ‘connections’ in the government. The interesting fact is that Halliburton under Cheney bypassed US-sponsored sanctions by investing in contracts to repair war-damaged petroleum infrastructure through subsidiaries registered in Europe! Soon the concern emerged as the top oil services company in America and the fifth largest military contractor. When Cheney left the company to run for vice presidentship, he was gifted a $34 million retirement package. Today Halliburton does business in 130 countries with a combined workforce exceeding one lakh. The two-way patronage between the company and its ex-CEO continues, and Halliburton tops the list of companies which got lucrative contracts for repairing oil fields in Iraq.
In sum, as defence secretary, Cheney destroyed the oil fields; as CEO of Halliburton, he re-constructs them. Then as vice-president he destroys them for the second time, and now his company is going to make monopoly profits again from reconstruction. Governance-Business synergy at its classic best!
Lenin wrote about “secret treaties”, “war contracts” (defence deals as they are euphemistically called now) etc. as prime source of super-profits for “international cartels and trusts” (MNC/TNC in current lingo). Today, the same thing continues in more advanced forms: internationally interwoven finance capital thrives not only on “armaments and war” as Lenin noted, but on manufacturing war and ‘peace’, destruction and ‘reconstruction’!
To be sure, the world has also undergone many changes since Lenin’s time. He had talked of wars among “great powers” (e.g., Britain, France, Germany, USA) for redistribution of colonies, sources of raw materials etc. – of truce periods alternating with wars between alliances of such powers. During the first half of the twentieth century the world situation developed exactly along these lines. Later we saw (a) transition from direct colonial to neo-colonial and semi-colonial methods of imperialist domination-exploitation; (b) the emergence of two superpowers (a category different from Lenin’s “great powers”) engaged in a cold war and proxy wars (partly comparable to Lenin’s “truce period” with the important difference that the truce never transformed itself into direct military clash); (c) a series of armed interventions, and coups engineered by imperialist states, notably the USA, against third world countries so as to establish/intensify neo-colonial control. And today the we face an apparently unchallengeable (in the military sense) superpower in a world where uneven development remains a fundamental law of capitalism but the consequent clashes among old and new imperialist powers express themselves mainly through channels of trade, finance and diplomacy, even as the war economy (the military-industrial complex) and wars of aggression remain as necessary a mainstay of imperialist economics and politics as ever.
The essential continuity of imperialism manifests itself through these and other changes in forms and techniques, and both aspects must be studied further so as to rediscover, re-appreciate and enrich the Leninist understanding of international relations. We must pay particular attention to grasping what Lenin called “the economic essence of imperialism”, for “unless this is studied, it will be impossible to understand an appraise modern war and modern politics.” (Preface to Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism)
Sharpened Contradictions
All the recent developments demonstrate with unmistakable clarity the rapid exacerbation of all three major contradictions in the world today.
First, the aggression and bullying as well as the bold resistances and protests reconfirmed that the principal international contradiction is the one between imperialism and the third world. With the rich countries transferring the burden of their crisis on the poorer nations under the facade of globalisation and the USA launching the most naked economic, diplomatic and military onslaughts, this antagonism will only aggravate in the years to come. This is getting reflected, in many cases after a long time, in the positions of even the otherwise ‘obedient’ third world governments and ruling class parties. The eight Arab nations’ 19 April statement, the essential thrust of which was to ask the US to leave Iraq, is yet another striking manifestation of this trend.
For Liberation readers, perhaps it is not necessary to elaborate further on this; rather, let us see how the sharpened principal contradiction is leading to the intensification of other major contradictions.
The energetic participation of the working class in the western countries in anti-war protests, both as part of mass demonstrations and in independent class actions – underscores the intensification of the capital-labour antagonism in developed capitalist societies on the political plane. Actions like Italian dockers’ refusal to load military materials and railway workers’ obstruction of trains carrying such materials and truckers’ strike in France and Italy have been reported from many countries. These are closely related to the workers’ on-going struggles on issues like joblessness, as an American labour leader pointed out (see box). In the UK, major trade unions including the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, the Communication Workers’ Union and the ASLEF (another rail workers’ union) have engaged in anti-war activities.
Particularly important in the protest scenario has been the role played by American workers. As New York Times reported on February 28, “After backing administrations in the Korean, Vietnam and Persian Gulf wars, the labor movement departed today from tradition and criticized President Bush’s approach to a conflict with Iraq. At its winter meeting, the AFL-CIO executive council unanimously approved a resolution urging Mr. Bush to embrace a broad multilateral approach to Iraq and criticizing the administration for dividing the world and insulting America’s allies.” March 12 was observed as the first-ever National Labour Day for Peace. In response to a call put forward by “US Labor Against War”, thousands of trade unionists distributed leaflets in their workplaces, distributed and donned anti-war flayers and buttons, rallied, held press conferences and met with their Members of Congress to bring more pressure to bear on the Bush team of war mongers.
Statement by Denis Mosgofian
(Former president and current SF Labor Council delegate, at a press conference on March 12)
“… Many workers are much more afraid of the Bush regime than of the Hussein regime. Hussein does not have 10,000 nuclear bombs; Bush does. The Hussein regime did not hand our federal tax dollars over to the rich; Bush did. Hussein did not force 170,000 federal workers to give up their right to a union; Bush did. Hussein did not attack Medicare; Bush did. Hussein is not threatening to privatize our Social Security system; Bush is. … Bush’s war is a war for oil and empire.
At home, the Bush regime’s war is a pretext for reducing the standard of living of the American people. … It is a cover for creating a surveillance society.
… Since the Bush regime took power, we have lost nearly 3 million jobs, 318,000 lost just last month. In the 28 days of February, there was a loss of nearly 11,400 jobs every day of the month. …”
Intensification of the third major contradiction – that among imperialist countries themselves – is quite evident in the rift between what Bush called “old Europe” and his “coalition of the willing”. The most significant part of the whole story is the seminal role played by Iraq’s decision and other oil-exporting countries’ inclination to shift from the dollar to the euro: a unique example of how the third world nations’ growing antagonism against the lone superpower intensifies inter-imperialist rivalries. Of course, contradictions do not mean the end of collusion, and even “old Europe” is now looking for ways to bridge the gulf with the “coalition” so as to get at least a small slice of the reconstruction cake. In fact the heads of states of the European Union were discussing precisely this agenda in Athens when some 8000 anti-war activists staged a very militant demonstration just outside the venue. The police resorted to tear-gas-shelling and baton-charge. However, the USA remains as adamant as ever about retaining practically the entire booty for itself.
In addition to the major three, other contradictions are also getting intensified. Among the more important ones is to be counted the bickerings within the ruling classes and parties in the USA and UK. The resignation of a number of Labour MPs in Britain and of American senior diplomats and other forms of protests from inside the corridors of power (e.g., opposition expressed by people like Zbigniew Brzezinski) are clear indications of this.
When “Movement Leads Organizations”
In scale, intensity, tenacity and level of consciousness the anti-war movement – a direct continuation of the anti-globalisation struggle – has indeed opened up a new chapter in the history of mass movements. Certain features are particularly noteworthy.
First, the great variety of forms: from strikes and rallies to boycotts of British and American goods to burning of the “Stars and Stripes” to literary and artistic creations to mass political mobilisations like the “alternative parliament” in London and the “Surround the White House” campaign in Washington and so on. Secondly, the involvement of every social group and stratum from workers and scientists (e.g., 41 Nobel laureates of America in science and economics issued a protest declaration on January 27) to school children and handicapped persons in practically all countries. Third, modern methods of organisation including the very fruitful use of the internet for exchange of information, opinions, experiences and also for planning and executing action programmes like big rallies. Fourth, and perhaps most encouraging, the great leap in political consciousness which made all these possible. The pre-emptive strike of the “second super power” (as the movement was described by the New York Times) even before the “first super power” could launch the war, the solid solidarity expressed by the people of the global North for the brothers, sisters and children in the global South … Numerous are the manifestations of the new internationalism.
Naturally such a great movement is pulsating with an urge to move beyond the bounds of an anti-war struggle. Discussions are going on across the globe on this question. To take just one instance, some American activists are considering the launch of a “Pro-Democracy Movement for Social Justice”, for they feel that democracy in the US is a joke. According to the international “Stop the War Coalition”, activists and organisers are eager to channel the newfound activism into a worldwide political movement. But they say the disparate nature of those participating would make such a movement difficult. As Andrew Burgin, a member of the coalitions’ British steering committee, said, “this was caused by social forces, and it’s not something that organisations produce. They are not in our control … You don’t lead a movement like this, the movement leads you.”
A certain sort of loose ‘networking’ brought the movement to this stage and this juncture. To sustain and develop it to a higher plane, a higher organisation is needed, while keeping the broadest united front character intact. This is the dialectic of spontaneous activism and vanguard organising where each promotes the other. The onus is on the Marxist-Leninists of the world and they shall accomplish it through active co-operation with all the progressive and democratic forces being engendered and energized by the movement.
(Most of the information on the war and the protest movements are taken from War on the People of the World (War Compendium, published by Other Voice from Kolkata, April, 2003, contact: anindyasen@onnyoswor.com)