Canadians like to view their military as blue-hatted peacekeepers with little in common with their aggressive US counterparts. As Canada sends 2300 troops to Afghanistan, and takes control of the US-led “Operation Enduring Freedom,” this misconception is about to be tested. Just like the United States, Canadian Imperialism has significant interests abroad that it wishes to defend. But unlike their southern neighbours, there is much less of a tradition or appetite for war amongst the Canadian population. This sentiment could be mobilized to bring down the new Conservative government, but only if the anti-war movement adopts anti-imperialist slogans and a consistent anti-imperialist analysis.
Under pressure of popular opinion, Canada was forced to stay out of Iraq and withdraw from George Bush’s new plan to put weapons in space. To compensate, Canada is playing a major role in two countries, Haiti and Afghanistan. During the 2004 Haitian coup, 500 Canadian Special Forces secured the Port-au-Prince airport while US Marines kidnapped Aristide. Canada then played a key role in the subsequent occupation. But the success or failure of Canada’s new aggressive military policy will be decided in the hills and villages of Afghanistan.
Moving from the relative safety of Kabul, Canada has now sent 2300 troops to the southern Pushtoon area around Kandahar. In contradiction to the propaganda, these troops are not involved in a UN or even a NATO mission. There is definitely no peacekeeping; and aid and development accounts for less than a fifth of expenditure. Canada has taken over responsibility for the American “Operation Enduring Freedom,” which is, in effect, a continuation of the 2001 war. This deployment frees up US troops for Iraq and serves to shore up Western Imperialism’s interests.
At the time of the Afghan war we explained that the Taliban were not defeated; they merely retreated to their home base:
“The Taliban have lost their grip on power, but not their potential for making war. They are very used to fighting a guerrilla war in the mountains. They did it before and can do it again. In the north, they were fighting in alien and hostile territory. But in the villages and mountains of the Pushtoon area, they are in their own homeland. The prospect opens up of a protracted guerrilla campaign which can go on for years. The first part of the allied war campaign was the easy bit. The second part will not be so easy. British and American troops will have to go into the Pushtoon areas on search and destroy missions, where they will be sitting targets for the guerrillas. Casualties will be inevitable. At a certain stage this will have an effect on public opinion in Britain and America.” (Afghanistan after the fall of Kabul: Is the war over? 15 November 2001)
Despite the triumphal declarations of Bush and Blair, our predictions have been proved correct. The Imperialists have set up a puppet government around Hamid Karzai, but the central government controls little outside Kabul. The Imperialists do not even control the same amount of territory controlled by the Soviet army between 1979 and 1989. If the western troops were to pull out, the central government would not survive the month.
The long-term Imperialist plan is to gain control of the oil and gas resources in central Asia and the Caspian Sea. They wish to establish bases and oil pipelines before a resurgent China or Russia can get into the region. Military bases will also play a role in interventions against Iran or in attempting to influence India and Pakistan. Canada, Germany, Holland and Italy, who all have major troop commitments in Afghanistan, are hoping to get the table scraps of future American contracts. The big prize is the $3.2-billion Trans-Afghan-Pipeline linking Turkmenistan with Pakistan. Former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien has been a representative of Canadian corporations wishing to invest in the pipeline. Edmonton-based Thermo Design Inc. recently signed a $42-million contract to build an oil and gas plant in Turkmenistan. But to make a return on their investment, they need to pacify the Afghan insurgency. Canadian troops, like all the armies before them, go searching for riches but will only find dust and blood in Afghanistan.
Opposition to War
Military strategists are talking about a 10-year commitment, but they forget that war is also a political game and there is no way they can sell that prospect to the Canadian people.
On the eve of the deployment, a CTV/Globe and Mail poll showed 62% of Canadians were opposed to sending troops to Afghanistan and 73% said that there should be a vote in parliament. The opposition to the Afghan war was even higher in Québec at 76%. Of the 27% in favour of sending troops, 31% said they would change their mind in the event of significant casualties. Since this poll was conducted, the Harper Conservative Government and the corporate media have pulled out all the stops to turn public opinion around. The media ensured a strong “support our troops” message was broadcast, while opposition voices were weak or absent. The NDP missed a perfect opportunity to gain support and cripple the imperialist intervention before it started. The leadership did not even give a pacifist analysis to consolidate the opposition to war and merely said there should be a debate in Parliament. When the Conservatives relented and gave a take-note debate with no vote, the NDP parliamentarians gave support to the mission but raised questions about prisoner transfers, exit strategies, and implied that Canada should be doing UN peacekeeping in Afghanistan rather than US-led war-making. While these issues highlight the hypocrisy of the intervention, they miss the fundamental issue. Canada and the western powers are in Afghanistan to maintain their imperialist interests, pure and simple. They want oil and resource profits. They want strategic bases to act against the people of Iran, Pakistan and India. They want to secure spheres of influence away from their Russian and Chinese competitors. “Peacekeeping” in the interests of Imperialism is no better than war-making in the interests of Imperialism. Nothing about this intervention aids the interests of working people in Afghanistan, Canada, or anywhere else. The Afghans have suffered under the interference of foreigners for 150 years and the NDP must join the movement to bring the troops back.
Opposition to the Afghan war is consistently three times the size of NDP support. The reformists continually say that you need to moderate your demands to be popular, but they are also happy to moderate their demands to be unpopular! New polls give a 50/50 balance of support and opposition to the intervention. This is hardly a ringing endorsement and will not last the impact of significant casualties. Even the small numbers of casualties already reported get significant and sustained coverage. Harper can echo George Bush all he likes about how he will not “cut and run,” but after 2 or 3 deadly ambushes, the population will think differently. To date there has been no coherent argument against the war, but still 50% oppose it. What the movement is lacking is a leadership with a consistently anti-imperialist message. Acknowledging that this is an imperialist war is the only way to cut through the confusing propaganda of the media and government. If the NDP come forward to lead the mass of Canadians who oppose this war, then there would be a real chance to destabilize the weak Conservative government. Socialists must put pressure on the NDP and labour leaders to take up this call in earnest.
For the Imperialists it is not a question of helping the Afghan people. Canadian and US Imperialism are not interested in helping the people they shoot and bomb. They have propped up the Northern Alliance government that is made up of many of the same warlords that were present under the Taliban. The Taliban were barbaric murderers; however, they were able to eradicate 90% of poppy production. The new western-backed regime is increasingly hooked on drugs. Heroin earnings are now at $2.7-billion, over 60% of Afghan GDP, and account for over 75% of world production. The Americans and Canadians are willing to turn a blind eye towards this as long as they have a friendly regime in the region. An acre of poppies earns a farmer 150,000 Afghanis, compared with only 6000 Afghanis for an acre of wheat. When life expectancy is only 43 years, and 16% of all newborns die, it is not surprising that 2-million poor Afghanis rely on poppy production. The Imperialists literally give them no other option. In fact, Canadian and US Imperialism is propping up the Afghan parliament, 60% of whom are warlords who profit massively off these drugs. Some have argued that the war and occupation are justified in order to improve the position of women. The new regime is no different to the Taliban in this regard. When British troops attempted to eradicate poppy fields, many farmers were forced to hand over their daughters to drug traffickers to settle their debts. Rape, imprisonment, and murder of any woman who speaks out against the new regime are commonplace. It is a perverse idea that women will be emancipated at the end of an imperialist bayonet.
“Aid = Bribe”
Canadian Imperialism is in Afghanistan securing its strategic interests and any humanitarian aid they speak of is merely meant to placate public opinion. The “aid” conducted by the Canadian Provincial Reconstruction Teams is more accurately viewed as a continuation of the war by other means. NGOs such as Médecin Sans Frontières have pulled out of Afghanistan, complaining about the blurring of aid and war. In one such instance, pamphlets were distributed offering aid to anybody who gave information against the Taliban. Here we have the latest Orwellian newspeak where “aid” is the new word for “bribe.”
Canadian troops, largely working class youth, are being forced to lay down their lives for Imperial Oil, Petro Canada, and the war aims of George Bush Jr. The Canadian population is also being asked to accept the risk of terrorist attacks. Prime Minister Stephen Harper talks tough, but then he doesn’t have to ride the TTC, the Montreal Metro, or the Vancouver Skytrain. The more the right-wing repeat the Republican mantra that “we have to face the enemy abroad or we’ll face the enemy at home,” the more the Canadian public sees through the propaganda.
So what is the solution? After all “something must be done,” so how can we oppose troops who are “helping out,” while reactionary fundamentalists wait to take control? The masses of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, and India understand that their countries are in a shambles precisely because of the interference of foreign Imperialism. Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Iranian Mullahs understand this and gain support by including an anti-imperialist message amongst their reactionary dogma. At the start of the Afghan invasion we released the following statement that is just as true now as back in 2001:
“The task of overthrowing the Taliban regime belongs to the Afghan people themselves. Many may scoff at this. But we would like to remind them that when NATO was bombing Yugoslavia we said that the task of overthrowing Milosevic belonged to the Serbian workers. We were told that was not realistic. All the bombs had no effect. But Milosevic was brought down by the movement of the Serbian masses, vindicating what we said.
“Today the same applies to Afghanistan. The workers and peasants of Afghanistan cannot place any trust in the Taliban, the Northern Alliance, the exiled King or any politician the West is going to impose. They can only count on themselves. It is the duty of workers around the world to help the working masses of Afghanistan. Especially the workers of Pakistan, India, Iran and the other surrounding countries have a role to play. If the workers of Pakistan were to come to power with their own independent revolutionary workers' party the situation in Afghanistan would be dramatically changed. The future of Afghanistan, due to its extremely underdeveloped nature, cannot be separated from that of the countries surrounding it.
“In the last analysis the problems of the Afghan masses can only be solved within the context of a Socialist Federation of the Indian Subcontinent. Unless the corrupt cliques that rule these countries are overthrown by the workers themselves there will be no lasting solution.” (Oppose imperialist war in Afghanistan! 08 October 2001)
In the final analysis working people cannot look to any other force in society to achieve our aims. Unfortunately, the leadership of the workers movement has lost confidence in working people and frequently looks to outside bodies like the UN. We must build the workers movement in our own countries and weaken our home imperialism. This is the best way to give aid to the workers of the world.
Is Canada Imperialist?
Lenin explained that Imperialism is fundamentally an economic relationship characterized by the export of capital and the control of foreign markets (through military or other means).
Imperialism is capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed. (V. I. Lenin, “Imperialism” Ch 7, 1916)
By this definition, Canada is clearly an imperialist country, with imperialist finance capital, an imperialist military, and an imperialist foreign policy seeking to defend Canadian capital abroad. People who present Canada as a weak oppressed nation are merely deluding themselves or are acting as apologists for the disguised predatory policy of Canadian Imperialism.
Export Development Canada (EDC) is the Crown Corporation responsible for coordinating Canadian investment abroad. It is hard to think of a more pure expression of “State Capitalism.” Figures released by EDC show that Canada can in no way be considered a minor player on the world stage. In 2004, Canadian Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) outflows totalled $62-billion, equalling France as the fifth largest investor. FDI outflows have averaged over $50-billion a year from 2000 to 2004. Canadian corporations have specialized in two main areas of investment. During 2000-2004, 27% of FDI was in energy, mines, and minerals with focal points in S. America and Asia. Over the same period 39% of FDI was targeted into the financial sector, a large portion of which was invested in American banks and insurance houses. Here we see how the interests of Canadian Imperialism are twofold – on the one side they wish to directly protect their oil, gas and mineral interests abroad. On the other side, Canadian Capital makes gains from the growth of US Imperialism through financial investments.
The corporate media likes to present the idea that Canadians are internationally viewed as peacekeepers. This is meant for consumption at home as a smokescreen for Canada’s foreign policy. Interestingly, the real impression of Canada abroad, in the rare event that people think of Canada, is that of little brother to the USA. This view is far closer to reality than most realize. The military, and their industrial backers, enjoy complaining about low military spending. In fact, Canada is the 7th highest spender amongst 26 NATO countries and spent almost $15-billion in 2005 (Polaris Institute, 2005). Militarists complain that this spending is relatively low in relation to GDP. However, a 2005 Polaris Institute report titled “It’s Never Enough: Canada’s alarming rise in military spending,” details how the 2005 budget plans a 34% increase in annual spending to almost $20-billion by 2010. During the last election, the Conservatives promised to top this up by an additional $5.3-billion over 5 years. To put this into context, for the price of a single military helicopter the Government could construct 1000 homeless shelters. Much of the new spending is earmarked for making the Canadian military “interoperable” with their US counterparts. The aim behind this is to support US Imperialism overseas. The report continues: “Transforming the Canadian Forces into a military that is capable of rapidly deploying soldiers, warships, aircraft and equipment has become the pre-eminent priority for the Department of National Defence. Whether it is weapons management systems for warships, or laser-guided bombs for CF-18s, these programs are intended to ensure that the Canadian Forces stand ready and able to fight with, or for, the United States.”
There has also been a shift in the deployment of Canadian military. 21st century Canada does almost no “peacekeeping,” defined as lightly armed observers monitoring a negotiated ceasefire. At the start of 2006, only 217 Canadian soldiers were active in UN “blue hat” missions, down from 4000 in 1992-3. Reformists, and even some who call themselves Communists, bemoan Canada’s lack of UN participation. However, Canadian Imperialism is merely recognizing reality. In the past, the UN could barter issues between the minor powers but was essentially a club for enforcing the common aims of the imperialist powers. But since the fall of Stalinism, the UN has become increasingly irrelevant and the United States is even more free to act with impunity. It is folly to believe that the might of US Imperialism, with 40% of world military production, can be tempered by appealing to the lesser imperialist powers. The only force capable of standing up to Imperialism is the world working class. We must rely on our own methods and our own forces. From Vietnam, to Iraq, to Latin America, we have seen that the only way that Imperialism has ever been defeated is by the mass of the poor.
How to stop war
Pacifists do a fair job of denouncing the horrors of war. War is indeed terrible, but as Lenin pointed out it is also terribly profitable for the capitalists. A pacifist who merely recounts the crimes of the battlefield is in many ways like a doctor who just sympathizes with your pain rather than giving a diagnosis or a remedy. War is the product of imperialism. The powers seek to gain markets and spheres of influence away from each other. Imperialism in turn is the product of monopoly capitalism. Those who genuinely wish to fight war must also fight capitalism - the cause of war. There are millions of people around the world who seek a rational explanation for world events. Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are stuck in unending conflict. All over the world, people live in fear of terrorist attacks. It seems to make no sense in a world with such amazing resources. These resources are controlled by small number of multi-billionaires and the militaries that protect their riches. Our solution is to take power away from the militarists and give it to the people. Let us not forget that is was the Russian Revolution that put an end to the First World War. The working people of the world have no interest in waging war with each other. We seek and end to war through a rational redistribution of the wealth of the world. From each according to their ability to each according to their needs.
- Troops Out!
- No Support for Imperialist Wars!
- Fight for Socialism!
- Afghanistan: Loya Jirga - Adding insult to injury (July 2002)
- Afghan weddings and American "sensitivity": Imperialist double standards exposed by Alan Woods (July 2002)
- Tony Blair's Great Afghan Adventure by Alan Woods (June 2002)
- Mission Impossible by Rob Sewell (March 2002)
- Afghanistan: "Fools rush in..." by Ted Grant and Alan Woods (December 2001)
- Afghanistan: "The Marines have landed" by Alan Woods (November 2001)