The world after the war in Iraq

The war in Iraq solved nothing from the standpoint of US imperialism but has ushered in a period of even greater instability on a world scale. The world is now a far more turbulent, volatile and dangerous place than it was a few months ago. The war in Iraq solved nothing from the standpoint of US imperialism but has ushered in a period of even greater instability on a world scale. The world is now a far more turbulent, volatile and dangerous place than it was a few months ago.

On the face of it, the outcome of the war was the most favourable one for Washington. The fighting was over fairly quickly and the losses - at least on the side of the Coalition forces - were relatively small.

The collapse of Iraqi resistance in the final stages finally settled all doubts concerning the fighting capacity of the regime. It is clear that the Iraqi army's fighting qualities diminished to the degree that the war approached Baghdad, whereas the exact opposite was expected.

The collapse, when it came, was sudden and total. The explanation for this lies partly in the colossal superiority of US firepower and domination of the air. But that cannot explain everything. The Americans were mortally afraid of entering Baghdad where they anticipated heavy street fighting and many casualties. They were the most astonished at the speed with which the resistance crumbled.

The eventual victory of the Coalition forces was inevitable, but the suddenness of the collapse in Baghdad cannot be explained entirely in terms of the technological superiority of the US army and air force. It was more a question of morale. In the moment of truth, most Iraqis were not prepared to die fighting for Saddam Hussein's regime, even though they hated the American imperialists.

The reason for this was the internal decomposition of the regime itself. The fighting capacity and courage of the Iraqi forces decreased the further up the ranks of the state we look. The ordinary Iraqi soldiers and fedayeen generally fought bravely. By contrast, the Republican Guard, Saddam's pampered elite corps, did not carry out its promise to fight to the death but simply disintegrated.

Thus, the Coalition won a victory far more easily than they had anticipated. This fact has certain political consequences. A protracted military campaign with many casualties would have had disastrous effects in the USA. In Britain it would have placed Blair in an impossible position. It has recently emerged that Jack Straw and other prominent members of his cabinet were preparing to resign if the number of Labour MPs voting against the war had increased.

The circumstances that accompanied the fall of Baghdad have been highly favourable to the right wing clique in the White House. Bush and Rumsfeld emerged strengthened, at least temporarily. In addition, the hawkish faction of Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfovitz have emerged strengthened at the expense of Colin Powell. The centre of gravity inside the Bush administration has shifted even further to the right. This will have consequences for the domestic and above all for the foreign policy of the United States in the immediate period ahead.

It is striking to recall that during the Presidential election campaign - before he gained entry into the White House by fraud - Bush was a strident advocate of isolationism. His slogan was "America first". But in the age of monopoly capitalism and imperialism "America first" signifies not isolationism but an aggressive and voracious foreign policy. Rumsfeld, Cheney and Wolfovitz and their friends on the Republican right are the most vociferous advocates of this.

Paul Wolfovitz, Rumsfeld's deputy, has been pressing for the invasion of Iraq since the beginning of the 1990s. Wolfovitz demanded military action against Iraq immediately after September 11, although there was not a shred of evidence linking Iraq to the attack on the Twin Towers. According to some sources, they were dissuaded partly by the intervention of Tony Blair who urged them to attack Afghanistan instead. But they never gave up their original plan, for which September 11 and the so-called war on terror acted as a convenient excuse.

The splits in the administration both before the war (over the role of the United Nations) and during it (over military policy) show that one section of the ruling class is uneasy about the "irrational exuberance" of the Republican Right. That trend is represented by Powell. But the swift victory in Iraq has tipped the balance against his faction. The Conservatives are firmly in control and they will make use of their advantage to push through their policies in different areas.

Iraq

The policy that is being pursued by the Bush administration in Iraq is just what could have been expected. With indecent haste they grabbed the oil fields immediately after the start of hostilities. The only ministries in Baghdad that they protected were the oil ministry and the ministry of the interior.

The whole conduct of the US imperialists in Iraq is not that of liberators but of an army of occupation and a colonial power. They are greedy and overbearing. They are also crude. As soon as the fighting had started Bush announced that all the contracts for Iraqi reconstruction would go to American companies - all of which are big contributors to the funds of the Republican Party. Right wing think tanks like the Heritage Foundation have drawn up detailed plans for the wholesale privatisation of Iraqi oil. This is illegal under international law, but since the invasion of Iraq was itself illegal under the same law, they merely shrug their shoulders.

The hypocrisy of the imperialists is really quite breathtaking. They continue to protest that they are not interested in Iraqi oil, that the oil "belongs to the Iraqi people" and so on and so forth, while making plans to hand over the whole thing to US contractors and big oil corporations. However, here also there are big problems.

In the first place, it will take a lot of money and also time to get the Iraqi oilfields working again. It is estimated that it will take at least one year to return to pre-war production levels, which were already quite low, and this will cost billions of dollars to achieve because of the poor state of repair of the Iraqi installations after over a decade of punitive sanctions.

However, the problems do not end there. The Russian oil company Lukoil, which has big interests in Iraq and is owed a lot of money, is threatening to take legal action if the Americans try to sell Iraqi oil on world markets. The Russians and French have demanded a key role for the UN in Iraqi reconstruction, which is code language for: we want our share of the loot! The Americans have replied with a friendly proposal: that the Russians and French should pardon all the money that Iraq owes them (quite a lot) and that this would be a very nice way to help with Iraqi reconstruction.

Moscow and Paris did not appreciate the joke and have replied by refusing to allow the UN to lift sanctions or reinstate the oil-for-food regime that the US needs to restart oil production and sales. Putin acidly points out that, since sanctions were imposed because Iraq was supposed to have weapons of mass destruction, the USA and Britain must provide proof that Iraq is now free from such weapons before sanctions can be lifted. But so far there is no sign of such weapons, despite all the efforts of the CIA.

This is a serious matter for the USA, since the cost of occupation and reconstruction is estimated to be between one and two hundred billion dollars. In the last war, the USA was in a broad coalition including Russia, France, Germany and Saudi Arabia. They paid all the bills between them and the war cost America almost nothing. But this time there is nobody else willing to pay and the bills will have to be met by the USA alone. Naturally, the opinion in the White House is that the Iraqis ought to be happy to pay for their own liberation and that the USA deserves a little assistance for going to all that trouble.

Unfortunately, the people of Iraq do not seem very happy, and are daily demonstrating against their "liberators". The number of violent incidents is constantly increasing, and the number of deaths constantly rises. The look on the faces of the American soldiers tells the whole story. They were led to believe that they would be welcomed as liberators, but instead they are confronted with an angry and resentful population who wish them to leave. They live in constant dread of snipers and suicide bombers and are inclined to shoot first and ask questions afterwards. This is a finished recipe for massacres and atrocities. The end result will be to fuel the flames of hatred against the invaders and encourage the development of armed resistance. This has already begun. It can go on for years.

Despite the swift American victory, things are not proving as simple as Rumsfeld imagined. The attempt to impose an American puppet regime on Iraq is in serious trouble. The Pentagon backs Ahmed Chalabi, an open American stooge with a murky past involving criminal business activities for which he is still wanted in Jordan (the latter is really quite a good recommendation for collaboration with people like Rumsfeld and Cheney). But Chalabi is hated by most Iraqis and has no base of support.

The Americans' gross ignorance of conditions in Iraq was shown by their miscalculation in relation to the Shiites in the South. They thought that the latter would rise up against Saddam Hussein and welcome the invaders with open arms. But none of this happened. The inhabitants remembered only too well how the other George Bush incited them to rise in 1991 and then cynically betrayed them to the tender mercies of Saddam Hussein.

Washington placed its hopes on their Shiite stooge, Abdel Majid Khoel, but he was cut down by political enemies on April 10 in front of his American bodyguards. To be an agent of Washington in Iraq nowadays is not a particularly healthy occupation, even if the pay is good.

Napoleon knew a lot about bayonets and found many uses for them, but there is one thing they cannot be used for, as he pointed out: you cannot sit on bayonets. The Americans and British do not have a real base of support in Iraq. Any support they might have had in the beginning is evaporating like water on the desert sand. Military superiority is of little assistance here. A long term guerrilla war waged with low-tech methods like sniping, ambushes and suicide bombings can have a devastating effect over a long period if it has the backing of the people - and it will.

American imperialism is the most powerful nation in the whole of history, but its power is not absolute. It was defeated in Vietnam by a barefoot army. To be more correct, it was defeated on the home front by a mass movement against the war. So far the majority of Americans have backed the war, but that was because it was short and relatively painless for America. But if it turns out that American soldiers are stuck in Iraq for a long time, subject to the attacks of a hostile population, the attitude of the American people will change. In the Lebanon a single car bomb was enough to force the US army to withdraw. Similar events in Iraq are inevitable. The final result will be the same, sooner or later.

The Middle East

The US imperialists imagined that a military victory in Iraq would bring greater stability in the Middle East. The opposite is the case. With these ladies and gentlemen appetite comes with eating. Having apparently disposed of Iraq with unexpected ease, they are already looking around for new targets. They immediately accused Syria not only of giving military aid to Baghdad and harbouring escaping Baathist leaders, but also of possessing weapons of mass destruction - which, as we know, gives America an automatic right to invade any country it chooses.

There really appears to be something unbalanced about these people. The neo-Conservatives have evolved an agenda which, if it were carried out, would turn the world on its head and cause chaos everywhere. They have long ago entered into close contact with the most extreme elements of the Zionist right wing in Israel and apparently share the desire of the latter to break up the existing Arab regimes and Balkanise the whole of the Middle East. The fact that such a plan would mean deposing pro-western regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia and causing chaos and wars everywhere in the region seems not to concern them in the slightest.

The spokespersons of this trend publicly argue that after defeating Iraq the US army should proceed immediately to invade Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia. This will, according to their firm conviction, start an unstoppable domino effect leading to the establishment of "democratic" regimes throughout the Middle East and general peace and prosperity under the benevolent rule of market economics - in the long run. The trouble about the long run, though, as Keynes explained, is that we will all be dead.

It is a graphic indication of the decay of US capitalism that such people could occupy any kind of responsible public office, let alone the White House. They have no understanding either of the realities of the Middle East or world politics in general. Of course, they are not responsible for the crisis of world capitalism, but by their actions they will certainly exacerbate it and lend it a particularly explosive character.

A war with Syria would suit Sharon very well, opening up the prospect of Israel seizing the whole of the Golan Heights and also cutting off support to Hizbollah. But it would upset the whole Arab world. It would threaten to involve Israel militarily, which would destabilise Saudi Arabia and Egypt. It would deepen the rift with Europe and Russia.

Therefore, to the great disappointment of Tel Aviv, the Americans have had to back off from attacking Syria - at least for the time being. To alleviate their disappointment, they are applying extreme pressure on Damascus, resorting to shameless blackmail and bullying to force the Syrians to do what Washington wants.

The Palestinian Question

As a sop to Arab opinion, and to his "friend" Tony Blair, who desperately needs some gesture to improve his image at home, Bush has hinted that there might be a solution to the Palestinian problem. But in reality this is empty propaganda. The Republican Right admires Sharon and supports him with great enthusiasm. After all, Israel is the only reliable ally of the USA in the Middle East. The clash with Turkey only served to underline the point.

After the collapse of the USSR, Washington felt it did not need the services of Israel so much. It wanted better relations with the conservative Arab regimes like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and put pressure on the Labour government in Tel Aviv to make some concessions to the Palestinians. These concessions did not amount to much and led to the second Intifada.

Undoubtedly the Americans would like to solve the Palestinian issue, but they are not willing to alienate their Israeli allies to do this. The present administration is even less inclined to put demands on its friend Sharon than Clinton was, and Sharon's position is quite clear. While making a few grudging "conciliatory" noises for the cameras, his line is: What we have we hold.

The so-called road map for a Palestinian state is a fraud. All the demands are being placed on the Palestinians. No serious demands are being made to Sharon. The Palestinian Authority is compelled to "reform" itself, placing the American stooge Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) in a key position, and then promise to "stop all violence" as a precondition for talks with the Israelis. But the PA cannot "stop all violence", as the latest suicide bombings in Israel showed. Therefore Sharon will not make any move, and the whole thing remains stalled.

On the other hand, the demands made on the Israeli occupiers are meek and mild. They are not asked to dismantle any settlements, only freeze the building of new ones. They are not asked to withdraw their army from the occupied territories, but only withdraw from the cities. Even if they do this, it will just mean that they withdraw a few kilometres and can return whenever they wish.

Meanwhile, the Israelis are completing a wall that will physically separate it from the Palestinian territories. This is supposed to be a security measure but in fact it would give Israel a complete stranglehold over the economy of any Palestinian entity. It already has this, opening and closing the border whenever it chooses, depriving the Palestinians who work in Israel of work and bread. The wall reinforces this power.

The Israeli imperialists will never permit the creation of a viable Palestinian state on its borders. If such a state is created it could only be a puppet state entirely dependent on Israel and run by its agents as a means of policing the Palestinians. That will not bring peace but only new upheavals, including fratricidal conflicts between the Palestinians themselves.

Neither the imperialists nor the bourgeoisie can solve the Palestinian problem. Those who claim this are deceiving themselves and the people. It will continue as a permanent source of wars and conflicts in the Middle East until the Israeli imperialist state is overthrown. But for this a common movement of Arab and Jewish workers is necessary, and this can only be achieved by a socialist programme and policy. On a capitalist basis the Palestinian problem is really insoluble.

The central problem of the Middle East is the weakness of the forces of socialist revolution. The failures of the Stalinists in the past, who put forward the so-called two-stages theory and subordinated the working class to the bourgeois nationalists, disoriented the workers and youth. As a result we have seen the rise of Islamic fundamentalism, which has led the movement into a blind alley.

On the basis of capitalism there is no way forward for the peoples of the Middle East. Economic stagnation, poverty, unemployment, wars - that is the only future that awaits the region. Yet it possesses all the potential to become a prosperous area, with high living standards and a flourishing culture on the basis of a socialist federation that would pool the vast resources of the region in the interests of all the peoples. On such a basis, all the old conflicts would disappear and the desert would blossom.

That is the only perspective worth fighting and dying for. It is the perspective of socialist revolution.

New contradictions emerging

New contradictions are emerging all the time on a world scale. There is enormous instability everywhere, reflecting the depth of the global crisis of capitalism. On every level we see the proliferation of splits, cracks and fissures. Every one of the institutions established after 1945 is now in crisis: the UN, NATO, the EU, the Group of 8. Above all there is a serious and widening gulf between the USA and Europe. And it is hard to see how these divisions will be resolved in the near future.

The American imperialists are puffed up with a sense of their power. They behave arrogantly even to their friends. Having slavishly followed the dictates of Washington, the British imperialists are now left high and dry by their allies across the Atlantic. As we predicted, they will get nothing, or next to nothing, when the booty is being shared out. The big American corporations will grab everything for themselves.

Conscious of their uncomfortable situation, Blair and co. are attempting to mend relations with France and Germany, but they have not got very far. Paris and Berlin consider, rightly, that they have been betrayed and that "perfidious Albion" is not to be trusted. Not long ago the British and French were planning to collaborate on a European Defence Force, partly in attempt to create a counter weight to Germany. Now there has been a shift within Europe. France has moved away from Britain and towards Germany.

Britain is seen in Paris and Berlin as a tool of US imperialism in Europe. The Americans and British are manoeuvring with the right wing governments of Spain and Italy and also with the new states of Eastern Europe to foment a bloc against France and Germany. In reply, the Germans and French are forming a bloc with Belgium and Luxemburg. The power of Germany and France is such that Britain will find herself isolated in Europe very quickly, especially as the right wing governments in Rome and Madrid will not last for long and Germany can dominate Eastern Europe economically.

The much-vaunted "unity" of Europe is exposed as very fragile and unstable. The French and German governments were already alarmed by the colossal power of US imperialism at the time of Kosovo. Now their alarm has grown even greater. They have decided to press ahead with the European Defence Force, but this has immediately brought about a crisis in relations with Britain, which is insisting that the new force must not be a rival to NATO (i.e., to the USA). But this is precisely what it is intended to be!

The Americans accuse the French and Germans of cutting them out of military planning. But this is precisely what the Americans did to them both in Kosovo and Iraq. The rival groups of imperialists are determined to pursue their own interests on a world scale and these interests by no means coincide. The US intervention in the Middle East and Africa is a direct threat to French interests. Incidentally, these splits and conflicts between the different imperialist powers completely expose the nonsense of those who tried to defend the idea that there was some kind of united, super-national world imperialism or "Empire".

In an attempt to find a counter weight to the USA, the French and Germans are looking to a deal with Moscow. Putin has got nothing from his conciliatory policy towards Washington. The Americans are thrusting into Russia's traditional spheres of influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus. In Iraq they are directly threatening Russia's lucrative oil business. As a result Russia took up a hostile position in relation to America's Iraq adventure and is moving towards a bloc with France and Germany.

How firm these alliances are is another matter. Such alliances and blocs tend to change with the shifting interests of those involved. The French and Germans will want to keep Moscow on their side and sense business opportunities. The Americans will do everything in their power to prevent Russia from consolidating the alliance with France and Germany. How far they can succeed depends on how many concessions they are prepared to make to Russia. So far they have not made many.

In an attempt to find out what the intentions of the Russians were, Bush sent Blair on a mission to Moscow. Mr. Blair likes to think he has a special relation with Putin, as well as with Bush. In reality his "special relation" with the American President is that of servant to master. Vladimir Putin is well aware of this fact, and he was not amused to get a visit from the messenger boy instead of the boss. He took his revenge by publicly ridiculing Blair in a press conference, asking him where the weapons of mass destruction were. He did not get an answer.

World economy in crisis

In the last analysis the conflicts between the different imperialist powers and the conduct of US imperialism on a world scale reflects the crisis of capitalism and the stagnation of the productive forces, hemmed in by the straitjacket of private ownership and the nation state.

The end of the war has not had the effect of boosting economic growth, as many expected. All the economic forecasters have had to revise their predictions for economic growth downwards. The IMF has lowered its forecast for world economic growth this year from 3.7 to 3.2 percent.

The USA is expected to grow by 2.2 percent, although in the first quarter of this year it grew at an annual rate of only 1.6 percent. Unemployment in the USA is increasing steadily: in February it rose by 357,000 and in March by another 108,000. The key to economic growth is always productive investment. Investment in the USA grew by 10 percent per annum in the period 1996-2000, but in 2001-2 it fell by 5.5 percent a year.

There will be no real recovery in the US economy until there is a revival of investment. But this depends on a recovery on the profits front, and that is nowhere in sight. The existence of massive overproduction ("overcapacity") produces a downward pressure on prices and profits. US capacity utilization is near a record low at the present time.

The repeated reductions in the rate of interest have had some effect in boosting credit, but this cannot last. Credit, as Marx explains, has the effect of extending the market beyond its natural limits for a time. But sooner or later the money that has been borrowed must be returned, with interest. At a certain point the process will reach its limits and begin to recoil, producing an even more severe crisis.

The crisis will be aggravated by the fact that during the last boom the whole system went beyond its limits, producing serious imbalances that eventually must be corrected. This will be a painful process. Usually at the end of a recession companies have a small financial surplus, for example. But at the present time US corporations are still deep in the red. And that is not all. Right across the USA we see a picture of deficits and debts that hang over the economy like a threatening black cloud.

The Federal budget, which was in surplus under Clinton, is now in deficit. What does George W. Bush propose to solve this? On the one hand he demands a huge increase in military expenditure, on the other hand he demands a tax cut of $726 billion. Alan Greenspan pointed out that this was an indefensible position, and was rewarded by a vicious attack from the Republican Right, which went so far as to demand his removal. In the end the Congress only approved half the level of tax cuts requested, but the Victor of Baghdad will soon be demanding more.

Not only is there an unprecedented level of private and corporate debts, not only is there a huge and growing budget deficit, but America's current account deficit is also enormous. It now stands at five percent of the US GDP, but is expected to rise to seven or even eight percent. In other words the USA is deep in debt to the rest of the world and is financing a spending boom at the expense of foreign money.

This situation defies the economic laws of gravity. It is clearly unsustainable. As a matter of fact, if any other country displayed such statistics, the IMF would be knocking at the door demanding a policy of cuts and austerity. But this is not just any country, but the USA. Even so, it cannot last. Sooner or later the foreign capital that rushed into America will rush out again, provoking a steep fall in the value of the dollar and plunging the world into a serious crisis.

Stephen Roach, the chief economist of Morgan Stanley, is warning that the world economy stands on the brink of a slump. The problem is that no other economy has the necessary weight to pull the world economy out of a recession. In the past Germany and Japan acted as the motor force of the world economy alongside the USA, but not any more.

Investment in the EU has been contracting since the middle of 2000. France and Germany are both running deficits that are in excess of what is permitted by the comically misnamed "growth and stability pact". Now Italy also is set to reach a deficit of three percent or more. This completely destroys the targets of the euro area, which aimed for a deficit of 0.3 percent in 2002 and zero in 2003. Instead, the overall deficit was 2.3 percent in 2002 and they now say that they will not be in balance until 2006 at the earliest.

As we have explained many times the attempt to unite economies that were moving in different directions by forcing them to accept a rigid monetary system was bound to lead to disaster, especially in a recession. This is now demonstrable. They cannot reduce interest rates as they need to do and are cutting spending and raising taxes in a recession - which is precisely the opposite of what they should be doing according to the old economic recipes.

As a result the European Commission warns that economic prospects "remain bleak in the very short term." The German economy has an even worse growth rate than Japan's. It is expected to grow by only 0.5 percent, compared to 0.8 percent for Japan, and 1.0 percent for Italy, 1.7 percent for France and 2,2 percent for Britain. Schroeder is demanding deep cuts in social spending, which will cause internal conflicts in the SPD. Unemployment is now more than 4 million in Germany and rising. Bank profits are weak, companies are going bankrupt and share prices are falling.

In the recession of 1990-1 the fall was cushioned by the growth of the Asian "tigers", but now that is finished. Asia grew by six percent last year but prospects have been revised downwards, partly as a result of the SARS outbreak but also because of the uncertain outlook for the world economy as a whole. Morgan Stanley originally suggested a growth rate of five percent for Asia this year, but has now cut this back to 4.5 percent.

The outlook is further darkened by the collapse of tourism and related branches such as hotels and airlines. This is partly the result of the war and terrorism and SARS, but also reflects a general mood of uncertainty and a decline of economic activity. Just in the last couple of weeks the Australian airline Qantas announced the loss of 1,000 jobs and Cathay Pacific announced the loss of 23 percent of its flights. There have been even bigger losses in the USA airline industry.

In such a context of overproduction, falling demand and lack of markets, the antagonism between the different capitalist economies and economic blocs is intensifying. There is a ferocious fight for even the smallest market and also for raw materials and spheres of interest. The contradiction between Europe and the USA is especially severe.

In the event of a world slump, a steep fall in the value of the dollar and the consequent upheavals in world money markets, the fragile structure of world trade will come under serious pressure. This is what really worries the strategists of Capital. They understand that the world depression of the 1930s was caused by protectionist tendencies, manifested in a series of competitive devaluations.

The upswing of world trade since the end of the Second World War was the secret of the survival of the capitalist system for a whole historical period. Globalisation has undoubtedly served as an important stimulus for the world economy, but it is wrong to think that this process cannot be reversed. It was reversed for a whole period between the World Wars, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that this could not be repeated in the next period.

Europe and America

The tensions between Europe and America, and also between Japan, Europe and America are becoming sharper with every passing day. In a different period this would have ended in war. But at the present time such is the military and technological superiority of US imperialism that this is ruled out. The European capitalists can do nothing but grind their teeth in impotent rage at the rampages of the American imperialists - at least for the time being.

War between Europe and the USA is ruled out. But a trade war is not. In the event of a serious slump, the contradictions between Europe and the USA, which have already been manifested in a series of conflicts over steel, agricultural products and other things, can lead to a demand for import restrictions and other protectionist measures. This would have disastrous effects on world trade. It would threaten a return to the kind of beggar-my-neighbour economic policies that existed before 1945.

A symptom of the seriousness of the clash of interests is the way in which Germany and France are moving towards a European defence force. They do not trust Washington to uphold their interests and are making their own preparations. There is nothing progressive about this. It is just a question of one group of imperialist gangsters clashing with another. The losers will be, as always, the working people of all countries.

Everywhere it is the same story: guns before butter. The new stage of the crisis of world capitalism will be characterised by constant upheavals in one continent and country after another. One war will follow another. The inevitable consequence of these convulsions will be an inexorable tendency towards militarisation of the whole world.

What conclusion are nations supposed to draw from the war in Iraq? Only this: that it is necessary to acquire nuclear arms and other weapons of mass destruction as soon as possible. That is the conclusion of North Korea, and thus far it has served them quite well. The North Koreans say: only by developing our nuclear weapons will we be able to save ourselves from the miserable fate of the people of Iraq.

There is a certain logic in this. Certainly the American imperialists, who threaten Syria and Iran, do not seem in any hurry to attack North Korea! Probably they will have to arrive at some kind of compromise involving the payment of large sums of money, which will work out far cheaper than a war with an enemy who possesses not only nuclear weapons but the means to deliver them to South Korea, Japan, and maybe even the West Coast of the USA.

Israel already possesses nuclear weapons (but it is better not to speak of that), so do India and Pakistan. It is possible that Iran is on the same road, with some help from Russia. It is only a matter of time before Japan feels the need to acquire a little nuclear insurance of its own. The whole of Asia is a future battleground in which the great powers - the USA, Japan, China - will fight for domination. The consequences for humanity will be appalling.

The costs of this new arms race will be borne by the working class. European Defence Force , for instance, to be effective must be at least on a comparable technological level to that of the USA. This will be very expensive. The bill will be passed on in the form of higher taxes and cuts in social spending on schools, houses and hospitals. The bourgeoisie says it has no money for these things, but it has plenty of money for new toys for the generals to play with.

The capitalists of all countries say they cannot afford higher wages and decent conditions for the masses. But the working class cannot afford new cuts and impositions. They have already put up with all this for the whole of the last period. There is a limit to the patience of the working class, and this is being reached everywhere.

The mass demonstrations that poured onto the streets of London, Madrid, Rome and other cities before the war had started were an indication that something is changing in society. Where did these millions come from? To a person with no understanding of Marxist dialectics, this seemed like a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky. It was not.

It was the result of a whole period in which the discontent of the masses has been silently accumulating in the deepest recesses of society. The problem was that this discontent had no obvious means of expressing itself. The official parties and unions of the working class have gone so far to the right in the last period, bending to the pressure of the ruling class, that the workers and youth became alienated from them - thus enabling the leaders to go even further to the right. But every process has its limits, and this is no exception.

The explosion of mass anger over the war revealed just how deep the process was. Quantity became transformed into quality. These mass demonstrations were only the first indications of a radicalisation that will sweep from one country to another in the coming period. It is a phenomenon that is rooted in the previous period. The masses, recently awakened to political life, are saying to the old political establishment: We have had enough! So far and no further!

But the antiwar movement also showed the weakness of, and limits of, spontaneous mass action. The millions of demonstrators could feel their collective strength and acquire new confidence. But they could also see that demonstrations, in and of themselves, solve nothing. It is necessary to go beyond demonstrations and pass to conscious political action.

A similar process can be seen on the industrial front. The mass general strikes in Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal, the continuing wave of strikes in France, the big strikes of IG Metal and others in Germany and the ferment in the British trade unions, which has led to the defeat of the right wing in one union congress after another, show that something is changing in the working class and its organisations. This is the shape of things to come.

All these symptoms show the underlying mood in society. People are not happy and contented. There is a ferment and a new critical mood. Even in the USA this exists and will deepen in the next period, as people realise that the wealthy elites that dominate their lives do not and cannot represent their interests. The stage is being set for an explosion of the class struggle everywhere.

Before the Second World War Leon Trotsky predicted that the USA would emerge victorious and become the main imperialist power in the world, but he added that it would have dynamite built into its foundations. This is now literally the case. George W. Bush assures the people of the USA that the war is now over. But in reality the war has only just begun. There will be one shock after another, and sooner or later this will affect the consciousness of millions of people - also in the USA.

We have entered a decisive period of the struggle on a world scale. Everywhere we look, from Latin America to the Middle East, from Europe to Asia, the capitalist system is in a deep crisis. There is an awakening of the working class and the youth. What is required is to give this movement the programme and policies it needs in order to succeed. We will do everything in our power to do this. In the meantime we are entitled to draw this conclusion: the movement in the direction of world revolution has begun.

This is not to say that revolution is immediately on the agenda everywhere. After a long period in which the class struggle has been at low ebb in the advanced capitalist countries, the working class needs time to stretch its limbs. The new generation is inexperienced and will have to go through a whole series of partial struggles to acquire the necessary understanding of the tasks posed by history.

It will not be an easy period. There will be defeats as well as victories. Periods of great advance will be followed by periods of tiredness, disappointment and even of partial reaction. But every step backward will only prepare the way for even greater upsurges of the class struggle. The reason is that capitalism in this period is no longer able to guarantee the kind of reforms and easy concessions that were possible in the long economic upswing that followed 1945. Every advance will have to be fought for. Every wage increase or reform will mean a bitter struggle between wage labour and capital.

Gradually, slowly, painfully, the working class, beginning with its advanced guard, will begin to draw revolutionary conclusions. This process of the development of consciousness of the masses can only come from experience, especially the experience of great events. At a certain stage these events must find an expression inside the mass organizations.

The mass organizations of the working class, beginning with the trade unions, will be shaken from top to bottom. The ability of the Marxists to win the ear of the masses will be determined by our ability to intervene decisively in this inevitable process.

Sooner or later, in one country or another, the question of power will be posed. The development of the world economy in the last period is such that the class struggle is linked up on a world scale to a degree that would have been unimaginable in the past.

The revolutions of 1848-9 were really confined to Europe. The Russian Revolution of 1917 had a big effect, not just in Europe but in Asia and the Middle East. It was the "ten days that shook the world". But under present conditions, just one successful revolution, especially in a key country, will have a far greater effect on a world scale.

The success of the socialist revolution would be much easier if there existed a Marxist tendency with roots in the mass organizations and a clear revolutionary perspective. The strengthening of the Marxist tendency internationally is the most urgent task. The experience of the workers and youth, combined with the necessary understanding of tactics, strategy, theory and perspectives, is a sufficient guarantee of victory.

The working class and the youth are already learning from their own experience. But that is not enough. It is our duty to help them to draw all the necessary conclusions, to participate shoulder to shoulder with them in every struggle, and to create the necessary vehicle to carry the struggle to the end.