Observations on the Present Political Situation
20-22 April 2003
The “New” Strategy of American imperialism
A great many people would agree on US imperialism being the main enemy of the workers and peoples of the world. But, apart from this somewhat too general statement, one should carefully consider the present course of American imperialist strategy and try to understand its specific dynamics.
The January 26, 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton from the Project for the New American Century prepared by Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and Kristol, the May 29, 1998 letter prepared once again by these people and sent this time to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Senate Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott and the January 23, 2003 letter written by Kristol, Woolsey and others to President George W. Bush were milestones in the evolution of this strategy. In all these letters, the recipients were urged to topple Saddam Hussein regime, to greatly increase military spending, to bypass the UN and act in a more arbitrary and brutal way, to station ”a strong US military presence in the region, and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Gulf” and to adopt a “preemptive” and more aggressive strategy “that would secure the interests of the US and our friends and allies (that is, of Israel-my note) around the world.”
We are also aware of a March 2002 document, the so-called Defense Planning Guidance. This document asserted that “America’s political and military mission in the post-cold-war era will be to ensure that no rival superpower is allowed to emerge in Western Europe, Asia or the territories of the former Soviet Union.” It was this document, which would lay the basis for the so-called “national security strategy” of US imperialism released in September 2002.
It would, of course, be a great mistake to attribute this more aggressive orientation of American monopoly capital just or mainly to the work of some very influential figures and to “the Bush administration.” It should be born in mind that, US imperialist policy was already evolving in this direction during the whole period following the fall of revisionist/ social-imperialist Soviet Union. Despite the liberal-imperialist rhetoric of the Clinton era, this new turn in the strategy of US imperialism was becoming visible as far back as 1992. In February 1992, US “Defense” Department issued its draft “Defense Planning Guidance.” This plan frankly stated:
“Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival either on the territory of the former Soviet Union or elsewhere, that poses a threat of the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union.” But, this “new” direction was not very clearly formulated and actively embraced during the Clinton administrations, which represented the somewhat more cautious approach of the earlier period characterizing less aggressive sections of American monopoly capital. This, of course, does not mean that Clinton era was moderate, with regard to the practical stand of US imperialism. The massacre of Somali people under the pretext of “humanitarian assistance”, intervention in Haiti, pursuit of policy of “dual containment” against Iraq and Iran, systematic bombing of Iraqi military and civilian targets, maintenance of the silent genocide of Iraqi people through UN sanctions, continuing support to the criminal Jewish state, bombing of Sudan and Afghanistan in retaliation for the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, approval of the so-called “Iraqi Liberation Act” and financing of the puppet Iraqi National Congress, US aggression against Yugoslavia without even a formal authorization from the UN, political and military support for various fascist and reactionary states, such as Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey etc. were hallmarks of the Clinton era.
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The important thing now, is to try to analyze the present situation under the light of historical experience and in comparison with the rise of fascism on the eve of the Second World War, assess the prospect of revolutionary struggle of workers and peoples against US imperialist domination of the world and draw the necessary conclusions with regard to political and organizational work. Here, I intend to make only some introductory remarks on this very broad subject, bearing in mind the fact that historical analogies have always had a limited value.
Paralels With the Pre-World War II Era
It can be rightly said that, the US is playing a similar role to that of Germany (or the axis of Germany, Japan and Italy) in the 1930s. But, there are significant differences as well. Let’s try to make a historical comparison to get a proper perspective.
1. In a way the US is even more dangerous than Nazi Germany. This is so, because, the level of military technology and destructive capacity of the weapons at its disposal far surpass those of Nazi Germany. Rapid advance of military technology has increased the comparative superiority of the strike capacity of imperialist countries vis-a-vis that of less developed ones and popular revolutionary forces. And the “wars” in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq have amply demonstrated the growing military-technological gap between the US and its actual and potential victims. (1)
2. Relatively speaking, the US is bigger and more powerful than the pre-Second World War Germany with reference to population and land mass and also seems to be more self-sufficient with respect to natural resources. Besides, the geographical isolation of the US and the presence of a friendly and another almost Anglo-Saxon country to the north (that is, Canada) provides it with further protection from its potential rivals and enemies.
3. During the previous confrontations and crises, the economic, political and military strength of different imperialist countries were more or less balanced. At present, however, the US is much more powerful than its rivals, especially in the military field. Together with the relative economic decline of the US in accordance with the law of uneven development of capitalism (2), this is another factor inciting US imperialists to resort to brute force for the protection and promotion of their interests. In fact this whole doctrine of “preemptive war” appears to be targeting other imperialists as well, who shall be in a more advantageous position vis-a-vis the US, if inter-imperialist competition is allowed to progress in a “peaceful way”. However, both the laws governing the development of capitalism and the historical record of imperialism show the impossibility of peaceful resolution of disagreements and rivalry among imperialist powers. (3)
So, the so-called Bush doctrine is not so irrational as it seems at first glance. Apart from intimidating the workers and peoples, the US wants to preempt its rivals by an attempt to gain greater control over oil and other resources and vital strategic regions, by strengthening Israel, its close ally and by its military presence and threats.
4. The absence of a strong socialist country (such as the USSR of the 1930s and 1940s) and that of an extensive and influential world communist movement, makes the position of workers, progressive masses and movements opposing imperialism still more difficult and complicated. This is so, because, especially in more advanced countries, the mass actions of workers and youth are in general led by bourgeois-democratic or petty-bourgeois groups, whom the monopoly bourgeoisie and its state apparatus can easily manipulate or deceive. Under these conditions, it is somewhat more difficult to mobilize the mounting anger of the masses at the arrogance and aggression of US imperialism, and even more difficult to sustain this struggle, to conduct it in an effective manner and to provide the masses with clear and correct objectives.
There are, of course, significant countervailing factors at work as well. Let’s enumerate and consider them.
1. The US is a far less monolithic power than the Nazi Germany (or imperial Japan) of the second half of the 1930s. This is not a reference to the presence of a quite extensive and definitely not insignificant mass opposition to imperialist war in the US, which might prove quite weak in the medium term. Historically the US has been much less centralized (or more federalist) than Nazi Germany, which was burdened with a tradition of feudal-military Junker reaction. To this, one might add, the widespread –and not essentially progressive- distrust entertained towards the federal government by almost all sections of the population, growing ethnic diversity of American society, gradual waning of the influence of White Anglo-Saxon Protestant elite and maybe the rifts in the ranks of American monopoly capital conveniently hidden for the moment thanks to the “easy” victories in Afghanistan and Iraq. (4)
2. The workers and peoples of the world have lived through First and Second World Wars; they have also lived through the accompanying and following social upheavals. Although the memory of these struggles have faded to some extent, especially in Europe and the US, even in these privileged regions there still exists at least a widespread and strong anti-militaristic and latent anti-fascist sentiment. Moreover, the present course of events is reviving the collective memory of workers and peoples and educating them in the heat of the struggle. The global resistance against mounting and unbridled US aggression and attack on civil liberties in the wake of the events 11 September are merging with the resistance against the ongoing neo-liberal attack of the bourgeoisie on the the working class and the movement against corporate globalization. All these factors contribute to the sharpening of already matured class contradictions. So, we can expect this mass movement against war and fascism to assume a more radical and maybe anti-capitalist form and content in paralel with the growth of US-led aggression.
3. The workers and peoples of semi-colonial and colonial countries, have experienced the atrocities of imperialists and their puppets before and since 1945 and have conducted extensive struggles against their imperialist and capitalist masters. This is especially true for the peoples of the Middle East, Central Asia and Southern/Southeastern Asia, who remain the target of US imperialism at the moment. They watch the US with feelings of intense hostility and deep suspicion, which are further strengthened by the events in Palestine, Afghanistan and Iraq. US-British plans to extend their aggression to Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia etc. are deepening and will continue to deepen both the hostility towards and determination to resist invaders and will, no doubt lead and already is leading to the emergence and consolidation of more radical resistance organizations.
4. Both the very much advanced level of degeneration of capitalism in imperialist countries and the present relatively high standards of living, in addition to the unjust character of imperialist wars, make ordinary soldiers very reluctant to put their lives in harm’s way. (Incidentally, this is another reason why, the ratio of poor workers and those of Negro and Latin origin is so high in the US armed forces.) Therefore, though equipped with high-tech weapons and therefore able to inflict very high losses on the armies and civilian populations of target countries, rank and file and lower ranks of US imperialist armed forces lack the motivation and determination to conduct a long and bloody war. Besides, both immediate family members and public in general are very sensitive to casualties. That’s the reason why since the war in Vietnam, US blood is rarely shown and very few US wounded or dead appear on American TV screens. (5)
5. On the other hand, in the medium term, overstretched US imperialists will find themselves encircled in several countries by hostile masses, who will be waging a “low intensity war” against them. Under these circumstances, they cannot successfully maintain their aggression and achieve a so-called “full-spectrum dominance” without the extensive use of weapons of mass destruction, including mini and regular nuclear weapons. However, as the recent experience of “wars” in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and especially Iraq has shown, not only world progressive public opinion, but world public opinion in general would be very much opposed to the widespread use of so-called weapons of mass destruction and especially to that of nuclear weapons by the US. This has been proved by the fact that the influence of the events of 11 September on the general public in the West waned rapidly, especially in the wake of the American aggression against Afghanistan, despite extensive chauvinist and militaristic propaganda. Even a second Pearl Harbour-type event will not be sufficient to secure real and sustained domestic support for a war of aggression of significant proportions. So, perhaps together with Engels we can speak of the play of “… those inherent dialectical laws of motion on the basis of which militarism, like every other historical phenomenon, is being brought to its doom in consequence of its own development.” (Anti-Dühring, Moscow, Progress Publishers, 1978, p. 213)
6. Notwithstanding the liquidation of the world communist movement and the absence of true vanguard parties of the proletariat in a great majority of countries, the world is objectively nearer to a socialist revolution than ever. Forces of production are in open rebellion against capitalist relations of production.Rapid growth of income equalities both between the “rich” and “poor” countries and within the “rich” countries themselves, universal attack on formerly won social and economic rights of workers, progressive destruction of the environment and depletion of natural resources, fostering of fascist, racist, militarist and anti-democratic tendencies and violation of the norms of bourgeois “rule of law” even in traditionally bourgeois-democratic countries, exposure of inhuman characteristics of capitalism (silent genocide of African toilers at the hands of AIDS related diseases, savagery of imperialist war machines, including the establishment of concentration camps and systematic killing of civilians and prisoners of war, as in Jenin and Mazar-i Sharif, preparations for the military control of most basic necessities, such as water etc.) further erode the fictious legitimacy of bourgeois society and demonstrate more clearly than ever the bankruptcy of capitalism and the necessity of a socialist revolution to solve the basic problems of humankind.
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Here I have to underline another significant difference between the pre-World War II era and the present. At that time, apart from the existence of a strong socialist country (that is, the U.S.S.R.), the might of opposing imperialist powers were more or less evenly matched. At present, however, the US enjoys overwhelming, though temporary, superiority vis-a-vis all other powers especially in the military field. This state of affairs forces second rate imperialist powers to follow a policy of appeasement and more or less rules out the likelihood of direct war among imperialist countries in the near future. (6) It, however, does not in any way diminish the gravity and sharpness of inter-imperialist contradictions. Although cowed and seemingly submitting in the face of the overt and covert threats of the US, other imperialist powers are trying to and shall continue to try to undercut the hegemony of Washington neo-fascists and contain them. So, conflicts and contradictions among imperialist powers, not to mention the conflicts and contradictions among imperialism led by the US on the one hand and semi-colonies on the other, shall continue to act as “indirect reserves” of the proletariat and other toilers in their struggle for democracy and socialism. It can even be said that the growing aggressive posture of US imperialism increases the importance of these “indirect reserves” rather than the opposite.
Two Further Points
I’ll reflect on two further points which seem to cut both ways, but in the final analysis favor the workers and peoples of the world. The first is the ongoing revolution in media communication. On the one hand, this revolution enables the imperialist bourgeoisie to manipulate public opinion on a scale unprecedented in the history of mankind before, witness the effect of corporate media in forming or rather deforming public opinion in the US. However, we should also point out the fact that despite a continuous barrage of lies and brainwashing going on for years and decades, US imperialists have not been able to generate solid and reliable support even among American people for their warmongering policies. On the other hand, the establishment of different and rival national TV stations with the ability to broadcast on a regional or global scale and the growth of an opposition media with the help of rapidly growing local radio stations and the internet may more than counterbalance the abovementioned advantages of the ruling classes.
The second point relates to the crusader motif and clash of civilizations approach imparted by US neo-fascists to their wars of aggression. Apart from Muslim workers and peoples, to some extent, US imperialism also targets the bourgeois strata and states, who do not fully “cooperate” with American overlords, prompting the so-called rogue states to “oppose” US hegemony. At this historical moment, characterized by the feebleness of the influence of socialist ideals and the absence of true Communist Parties with extensive ties to the toiling masses, this policy of the US inevitably contributes to the strengthening of radical Islamist trends and imparts an Islamist color to the resistance against US-led aggression on the Muslim world. The result of this state of affairs can be described as a mixed blessing.
On the one hand, the logic of the struggle in the Muslim world against US imperialism is pushing and shall push the yet very weak vanguards of the proletariat into close cooperation with Islamic resistance organizations, notwithstanding the fact that these allies will prove to be temporary, unreliable and vacillating and maybe even treacherous. But more importantly, the present situation in the Muslim world, provides vanguard of the proletariat with the opportunity to tap the immense revolutionary potential of hundreds of millions of Muslim toilers. On the other hand, by stirring feelings of religious confrontation and therefore serving the non-compradore sections of Muslim bourgeoisie to consolidate their hold on workers and toilers, the rise of Islamic radicalism is damaging and shall damage the prospects of development of consistent revolutionary-democratic and anti-imperialist struggles of Muslim masses. (7)
As the example of Iranian Islamic revolution of 1979 has demonstrated, these forces will not hesitate to turn their guns on the vanguard of the proletariat (and other revolutionary groups) right after (and maybe even before) any meaningful victory over imperialist invaders and their lackeys. They also will try to defraud the revolutionary masses of their gains after the defeat of imperialist invaders and/or overthrow of puppet regimes. This, however, cannot be taken as a pretext to promote a sectarian line and reject temporary alliances with Islamic (or other) forces, so long as they fight against the main enemy. To do otherwise, would mean isolating oneself from the fighting masses, shedding all claim to establish the hegemony of the proletariat and lead the workers and other toilers in the struggle for democracy and socialism. In speaking about Marxist tactics and the importance of gaining mass allies, Lenin said:
“It is possible to conquer the more powerful enemy only by exerting the utmost effort, and by necessarily, thoroughly, carefully, attentively and skilfully taking advantage of every, even the smallest ‘fissure’ among the enemies, of every antagonism of interest among the bourgeoisie of the various countries; by taking advantage of every, even the smallest opportunity of gaining a mass ally, even though this ally be temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional.” (“ ‘Left-Wing’ Communism, An Infantile Disorder”, Selected Works, Vol 10, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1938, p. 112)
A Note of Caution
However, it maybe necessary to add a note of caution here. Application of flexible tactics and working together with temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional mass allies, presupposes the presence of a true vanguard party of the proletariat, firmly based on Marxism-Leninism and with at least some ties to the advanced sections of the working class. Without the fulfillment of this precondition, all talk or attempts at following a flexible tactical line and working together with allies will prove to be empty talk and/or result in khvostism. The awakening and organization of working class, both in semi-colonial and advanced capitalist countries, its socialist education and elevation to the leading position of the mass movement remains the sole guarantee for the evetual defeat of warmongering activity imperialism led by criminal US imperialists and their allies and puppets.
And without the overthrow of capitalism, victory of socialist revolution and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat in at least some of the most advanced and decisive countries, danger of fascism, militarism and imperialist war shall continue to remain on the agenda of humanity. Emergence of a powerful global peace movement targeting US imperialism and its allies, growth of radical Islamic and other resistance movements in the Muslim world and elsewhere serve more and more to expose, isolate and arrest the imperialist aggression led by Washington neo-fascists. However, although these movements can at times deal hard blows at aggressors and foil their plans, they cannot eliminate the danger of imperialist war. Discussing the prospects of the peace movement in his “Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR”, Stalin said:
“What is most likely is that the present day peace movement, as a movement for the preservation of peace, will, if it suceeds, result in preventing a particular war, in its temporary postponement, in the temporary preservation of a particular peace, in the resignation of a bellicose government and its supersession by another that is prepared temporarily to keep the peace. That, of course, will be good. Even very good. But, all the same, it will not be enough to eliminate the inevitability of wars between capitalist countries generally. It will not be enough, because, for all the successes of the peace movement, imperialism will remain, continue in force- and consequently, the inevitability of wars will continue in force.
“To eliminate the inevitability of war, it is necessary to abolish imperialism.” (Bruce Franklin, The Essential Stalin, New York, Anchor Books, 1972, pp. 472-73)
(1) From the point of view of states or non-state actors, this state of affairs should be expected to decrease the importance of conventional methods and tactics of warfare and increase that of guerilla-type warfare in the widest sense of the word and across the board. This may be one of the reasons, why US imperialists rail very strongly against suicide bombings and similar actions and try to disgrace them. On the other hand, it would be a very grave mistake for revolutionary forces to ignore the implications of and the opportunities offered by the development of military technology, including the field of cyber war.
(2) Although China, Japan, Russia or an alliance of two or more imperialist countries may challenge the supremacy of the US, in the foreseeable future the real threat to the economic dominance of the US may be coming from the European Union. Over the next couple of years, the US will be struggling to cope with huge amounts of military expenditures, which will rapidly increase in line with its growing aggression all around the world and will slowly be crushed under the almost unbearable weight of its military commitments and that of the military-industrial complex. And the EU should be expected to become a major rival power in the coming decades, despite its short-term difficulties, which have been blown up out of all proportion. In his article “The End of the West”, published in the November 2002 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, Charles Kupchan had made the following essentially correct analysis:
“The EU’s annual economic output has reached about $8 +trillion, compared with America’s $10 trillion, and the euro will soon threaten the dollar’s global dominance. Europe is strengthening its collective consciousness and character and forging a clearer sense of interests and values that are quite distinct from those of the US. The EU’s member states are debating the adoption of a Europe-wide constitution (a move favored by two thirds of the union’s population), building armed forces capable of operating independently of the US military, and striving to project a single voice in the diplomatic arena. As the EU fortifies its governmental institutions and takes in new members (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and at least four other countries are expected to join in 2004), it will become a formidable counterweight to the US on the world stage. The transatlantic rivalry that has already begun will inevitably intensify. Centers of power by their nature compete for position, influence, and prestige.”
However, it would be a grave mistake to suggest, as some writers do, that a more civilized alternative to the savage imperialism of the US can be found inside the framework of capitalism. Throughout the history of 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, all major capitalist powers have shown times and again that they can be as ferocious as the US.
(3) A study conducted by the CIA in January 2002 (“Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue About the Future With Nongovernmental Experts”) considers four different scenarios for the future and ends with a negative and pessimistic note:
“In all four scenarios, US global influence wanes.”
(4) As the growing resistance in Afghanistan shows, US aggressors are far from having won a victory even in this impoverished country. Anthony Davis, in his article to Jane’s Intelligence Review (“Afghan security deteriorates as Taliban regroup”) has stated:
“After a winter punctuated by scattered attacks, March and April saw the closest to a co-ordinated offensive the anti-Kabul opposition has yet achieved. This left no doubt that the predominantly Pashtun forces aligned against the western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai had used the winter to regroup, train and achieve a far greater degree of organisational cohesion than was evident in 2002. An ad hoc alliance comprising Taliban remnants, the Hizb-i-Islami Afghanistan (HIA) faction of former mujahideen leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and groups of Al-Qaeda stragglers now appears increasingly to be co-ordinating its command structures and support and logistics networks…
“Rocket attacks have gained both in frequency and intensity. Whereas last year one or two missiles was the norm, salvos are now being fired. There have also been barrages of mortar fire.
“Rocket attacks targeted US bases in the provinces of Kunar, Nangahar, Paktia, Khost, Paktika, Kandahar and Uruzgan. On 29 March, two US military personnel, a Special Forces soldier and a National Guard airman, were killed in an ambush near Girishk in Helmand province. The following evening, the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in central Kabul was hit by a 122mm rocket, while another missile landed near the Kabul Military Training Centre on the eastern edge of the city.
“At the same time, the opposition has displayed greater aggressiveness both in attacking US Special Forces beyond their bases, and in concentrating larger numbers of fighters. The planting of mines on roads used by US patrols, which was begun last year, continues; but is now being reinforced with close-in ambushes.”
(5) This state of affairs also highlights the growing importance of revolutionary and anti-militarist work in the ranks of the armed forces of imperialists and their puppets, with an eye to the neutralization and disintegration of this bastion of the exploiting classes. At the moment, one of the most important tasks of advanced workers and Communist Parties is to organize such work and to encourage the more militant sections of the anti-war movement to do likewise. This work should also cover the promotion of resistance of workers and youth to the transfer war materiel for imperialist armies and that of the movement for conscientious objection.
As far back as 1920, Lenin had stressed the importance of conducting revolutionary work inside the military. In “The Conditions of Affiliation to the Communist International” Lenin said:
“4. Persistent and systematic propaganda and agitation must be carried on among the armed forces and Communist nuclei must be formed in every military unit.” (Selected Works, Cilt 10, Londra, Lawrence & Wishart, 1938, p. 202)
(6) There may be other reasons behind the appeasement and collusion policies of Germany, France, China, Russia and Japan, than the relative weakness of these imperialist wolves. At least, some of these powers may be eagerly watching the arrogant and almost military-imperialist US to get itself bogged down in the quagmire of a series of unwinnable wars. At the moment, apart from having stationed its troops in dozens of countries all around the world, the US imperialists are actively engaged in combat operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Colombia, the Philippines and are getting prepared to attack Syria, Iran, Saudi Arabia and maybe North Korea and others. Both the historical experience of the era of colonialism and imperialism and the recent experience of US aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrates and will continue to demonstrate the fact that, despite all their bluster and disinformation campaign, they are fighting losing battles.
(7) In the medium term, this may even provide a revitalized, united and more self-confident imperialist Europe with an opportunity to make inroads into the Muslim world. One might conveniently remember the example of German imperialism led by Kaiser Wilhelm II, at the beginning of the 20th century, which under the guise of friend of Islam, tried somewhat successfully to turn the decrepit Ottoman Empire into its dependency and to weaken the position of British colonialism in Africa, the Middle East and India. But, apart from that, the attempt of the US to turn the whole world into its own backyard is already meeting resistance from other imperialist powers and this trend is on the rise. Referring to G. W. Bush’s argument as to American intentions to prevent the formation of any power blocs opposing the might of the US, Stanley Kober, in his article in China Morning Post, said:
“Foreign governments have taken note. Some have decided to bind themselves closely to the United States, seeing American power as the guarantee of their security. But other countries have adopted a different approach. In November of last year the People’s Daily stressed the growing importance of the Shanghai Cooperative Organization (SCO) and boasted that ‘China-Russian relations remain better than Russian-U.S. ties.’
“India has also indicated a desire to join the SCO, which would then unite the major countries of Eurasia in a common security organization. As P. B. Mehta, professor of law and philosophy at India’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, recently explained, ‘This war will almost certainly result in a greater anti-Americanism around the world and may even occasion a more concerted effort to build coalitions to challenge American hegemony.’ ” (“The Realignment of the World”, China Morning Post, April 3, 2003)